As I told some of my colleagues– prior to this week, I had never been to Washington, D.C., but when the White House invites me, I go. Over 31.7 million people tuned in to watch President Obama give the State of the Union on Tuesday, January 20, 2015, and I had the honor of being invited by the White House to watch the State of the Union at the White House and take part in the post State of the Union White House chat with senior-level White House officials. During the post-SOTU chat, we heard from Sam Stein, Political Editor of the Huffington Post, and Dan Pfeiffer, Senior Advisor to President Obama. Part II included other senior officials, including Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez.
The Main Event
My particular interest in attending the event is two-fold. I wanted to hear more about the President’s community college initiative. As many of the regular readers of the blog know, I serve on the Board of Directors of the Maricopa Community College Foundation which receives and manages gifts on behalf of the Maricopa Community College District’s ten colleges, two skill centers, and multiple satellite centers. As one of the largest educational systems in the nation, the District educates a quarter million students annually. I recently spoke more about my involvement on Sonoran Living on ABC15. In the President’s SOTU spoilers, he had just announced his plan to make two years of community college free for deserving and qualifying students, and I knew it would inevitably be a focus on the State of the Union.
Equally important- and hopefully all readers know this about me by now- anything new and groundbreaking related to employment law is top on my list of “things I need to know every detail about ASAP.” The President’s plan to mandate seven days of paid leave for workers falls on that list. Right now, companies are not required to provide paid leave– except for limited instances when they may be required to provide leave for voting, jury duty, witness leave, etc. (Those laws vary by state).
Since social media was encouraged at this event to further promote engagement with those watching (or even just interested in) the State of the Union, I live-tweeted the State of the Union, as did the other attendees. The room was a mix of professors, leaders in various industries, social media gurus and bloggers, and some big advocates and supporters of community colleges. Having only watched State of the Union from my home in the past, it was electric to be surrounded by people cheering, shouting out responses, ooh’ing and aah’ing (particularly for the picture of toddler Obama on his bike), and applauding the progress and job growth we have seen over the past year.
The State of the Union
Spoiler alert: “The State of the Union is strong.” The President covered a lot of areas in his speech, but I’ll focus on just a few that brought me to D.C. and have likely brought you to this blog.
“My fellow Americans, we too are a strong, tight-knit family. We, too, have made it through some hard times.”
Businesses should be particularly interested to hear that jobs are being created at the fastest pace since 1999. The unemployment rate is lower than it was below the financial crisis. Wages are starting to rise and more small businesses are raising employees’ pay now than at any time since 2007. In addition, American manufacturers have added almost 800,000 new jobs.
One major theme in the SOTU is that investing in one’s workforce is in a company’s long-term interest. I think this is something that we see throughout the superstar companies of our state. Spending the time to make everything right on the front-end– with policies, procedures, practices, and training– is worth it in the long run.
Another major point that President Obama made and Secretary Perez emphasized at the post-SOTU chat is that, in the 20th century, making high school free allowed us to train the best workforce in the world. The next step, as they have explained, is making community college free and attainable to everyone. This is important because, by the end of the decade, two of three job openings will require some higher education.
“That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero.” - President Obama
“Community colleges are the secret sauce to success in America.” - Secretary Perez at the post-SOTU chat
“I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.” - President Obama
Companies should be excited about this vision as a skilled workforce can only benefit businesses and allow them to grow and compete in a global marketplace.
There were tons more topics addressed that are incredibly important– including gay marriage, relations with Cuba, and even ebola. If you want to read the State of the Union, you can here, or you can watch it here.
What Companies Should Expect
We will be hearing more about the paid leave initiative over the forthcoming months. And, this was not mentioned in the SOTU, but the proposed regulations relating to the white-collar exemptions will likely be issued by the Department of Labor in February.
The President has also asked Congress to pass legislation to address the threat of cyber attacks. I expect that, in the future, companies will have clearly defined reporting obligations in the event there is a breach in online/cyber security. Next month, a report will be issued by the White House that will detail steps that are being taken to strengthen privacy.
Since we were encouraged to engage with others on social media during the White House State of the Union Social, you can check out the play-by-play on my Twitter account: @Employment_Atty. Here are some of my 140 character tweets (mixed with some from the White House and others) below:
I am interested to see where President Obama’s initiatives may go and whether states will back the community college proposal which currently requires 25% of the funding to come from the states. And, since it’s the time of year for the annual recap, I suppose I should share that The State of the Blog is strong. Thanks for reading.