Workforce/Business Development

Basic Philosophy
The Chamber believes that a successful business is a joint effort among ownership, management, and labor, without prejudice. To be successful, a working relationship must be developed and encouraged. Free market forces should play a strong role in establishing and maintaining a positive employer/employee relationship.

Small businesses make a distinct and creative contribution to the Billings economy. For many seeking economic independence, small business ownership offers the greatest opportunity. Small businesses produce a major share of business innovation. Their numbers make them the largest source of private employment and the most tangible local representation of the private enterprise system in America today.

Specific Issues
Workforce Training
Publicly funded worker training is essential in order for Montana to be competitive when it comes to industry retention/expansion and new industry recruitment. We support continued funding to help offset the cost of training individuals for newly created “base industry sector” jobs as enacted by the 2003 and 2005 legislatures. Furthermore, we support the initiative to develop training funds and programs for incumbent worker training to assist existing businesses to expand and to utilize the talents of their incumbent workers to meet the demands of the 21st century workplace. Advancing incumbent workers to more technical and skilled positions within their companies will provide positive results for the worker, the business and Montana’s economy. We support the reduction of bureaucratic costs and improved efficiencies in the workforce system resulting in maximizing funding to train workers and assist businesses.

Wrongful Discharge
Montana’s Wrongful Discharge Act, being the only statute of its kind in the nation, has had an adverse impact on recruiting new businesses to Montana. The Chamber vigorously opposes any action or legislation it deems will have an effect of eroding employer’s rights under the current statutes. We will support any improvements or modifications to this statute which would enhance Montana’s ability to attract and retain new or existing businesses.

Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace
We support clarification and expansion of the 1999 legislation to allow universal drug and alcohol testing of employees with proper procedures established to safeguard the innocent.
Workforce and Business Development

Wages
The Chamber believes in the ability of market forces to set wages and benefit levels. We oppose the creation of livable wage legislation.

Workers Compensation
Workplace safety is the shared responsibility of employers and employees. We support the pursuit and prosecution of worker’s compensation fraud whether perpetuated by an employee or an employer. We support a competitive insurance market for workers’ compensation, not dominated by a single insurance carrier or the State Fund. We support the exclusive remedy doctrine for workplace injuries with the inherent trade off of legislated benefits for the injured worker without having to prove negligence. We support prompt delivery of reasonable and appropriate benefits to a worker who, in the scope and course of employment, has suffered an injury or illness as a result of a workplace environment.

Business
The Chamber opposes any legislation that would mandate financial and other requirements on businesses that close down their operations or lay off many employees. One barrier to business ownership is access to capital, especially long-term debt financing. The Billings Chamber of Commerce recognizes that ensuring the availability of financing to foster the growth and expansion of businesses is in the best interest of the economy.

The Chamber supports passage of legislation that would eliminate the hurdle of “substantial justification” and allow businesses to be reimbursed for attorneys’ fees when successful in challenging government’s regulatory actions in court.
Additionally, the Chamber supports the following:

• Provide businesses with additional time to respond to an OSHA citation, increase the number of OSHA commissioners, allow small businesses the right to appeal an OSHA citation, and force OSHA to pay the legal fees of a business when a citation is overturned.
• Resolve administrative and compliance problems suffered by employers who are making a good faith effort to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and prohibit FMLA expansion to business.
• Encourage passage of business tax provisions that would provide for the permanency of business expensing allowances (Section 179), the permanent elimination of the death tax, and the permanent reduction in the marginal income tax rates.
• Work for passage of the Small Business Liability Reform Act, which provides caps on punitive damage awards and proportional liability for small businesses.

Immigration
There are an estimated 10.2 million undocumented migrants in the United States, and deporting them would be the equivalent of removing the population of the state of Ohio—not a very viable option. As a country, we are facing an aging population and a severe shortage of essential workers to fill jobs that Americans are unwilling or unable to take.

The Billings Chamber of Commerce recognizes that the U.S. immigration system is broken. To fix the system, a comprehensive approach is needed because it is easier to enforce laws that make sense. Enforcement alone is not the solution. The Chamber supports legislative action that:
• Is comprehensive: addressing both future economic needs for future workers and undocumented workers already in the United States.
• Strengthens national security by providing for the screening of foreign workers and creating a disincentive for illegal immigration.
• Strengthens the rule of law by establishing clear, sensible immigration laws that are effectively and vigorously enforced.

Business Development
• Creates an immigration system that functions efficiently for employers, workers, and government agencies, which is based on a reliable employment eligibility confirmation system that is easy to use will, and aid businesses with deciphering federal immigration laws so that they can avoid having to hire expensive lawyers.
• Ensures that U.S. workers are not displaced by foreign workers.
• Ensures that all workers enjoy the same labor law protections.

Taken together, these proposals can help fix our broken immigration system and return business owners to doing what they do best: creating jobs. The Chamber is mindful of our nation’s history and the important role immigrants have always played. In fact, our economy has always relied on waves on immigrants and in the near future, immigrants will play an even larger role in alleviating inevitable worker shortages that will be created as aging baby boomers start retiring. It is important that all Americans have access to job opportunities before they are open to foreign workers. However, we need a fast and dependable way to match willing employers with willing employees. We also need visa limitations that fluctuate according to market needs.

Trade
The United States has the most open markets in the world and we as consumers benefit from being able to purchase so many goods and services from across the world. We as a nation are economically better off and more secure because of open markets. Unfortunately, too often foreign markets aren’t as easily accessible. U.S. companies that manufacture goods and produce value added services as well as America’s farmers find themselves facing prohibitive tariffs, quotas, and other trade related barriers keeping them from achieving their full export potential.

With 96% of the world’s consumers living outside the United States, it is important that the U.S. enter into trade agreements that begin to open these markets to U.S. companies. Today, globalization means that U.S. small business comprises nearly 97% of all exporters, no longer casting trade as a big business issue. The Billings Chamber of Commerce supports the opening of foreign markets to benefit increased U.S. exports of goods, services, and agricultural products.

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