Business trade groups lobby for COVID-19-friendly regulations, aid, legal protections

June 22-28, 2020

by Daily Record Staff 


As small business owners in Central Arkansas look to local COVID-19 support from organizations like the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC), top national trade groups are also stepping in to lobby lawmakers and policymakers for further financial aid, business friendly legislation, and legal protection from the pandemic.


From the blue-collar heavy manufacturing and aviation and aerospace sectors to the service friend restaurant, retail and health-related industries on the front line of widespread pandemic, trade groups are ramping up their lobbying efforts as business and industry in Arkansas and across the U.S. struggle to reopen and recover.


For example, the National Association of Manufacturing (NAM) released its American Renewal Action Plan in late April to make sure manufacturers can continue operating as the number of positive U.S. coronavirus cases tops two million, including nearly 120,000 deaths.


“Our industry has been on the front lines throughout this crisis, providing the equipment and products to keep our country safe, healthy and fed. The nation is counting on us to continue to play a leading role in this effort, and lawmakers must equip us with the tools we need,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, a member of the White House’s task force on the COVID-19 recovery efforts.


Among the issues that NAM has lobbied President Donald Trump and Congress is direct financial support for U.S. manufacturers to retool U.S. production plants and help meet the demands at many American factories for personal protection equipment (PPE), safe hygiene and sanitization processes.


In late May, NAM also launched a multi-million-dollar national ad campaign to highlight the importance of smart policy decisions by lawmakers to protect the U.S. manufacturing supply chains in the wake of COVID-19.


“The policies that we are proposing will allow manufacturers to lead our economic recovery by strengthening supply chains and accelerating onshoring, through incentives for creating the next job or investing the next dollar right here in America,” said Timmons, whose organization represents 14,000 member companies in every sector of the U.S. economy. 


“Manufacturers are working around the clock to create the protective equipment, cleaning supplies, medicines and other essential products in the wake of COVID-19, and we need the right policies so we can make even more here at home and lead a truly historic American renewal,” said Timmons.


Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors and Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) have also launched aggressive lobbying campaigns on behalf of their respective members as U.S. employment has soared to nearly 14% amid nearly 45 million jobless claims between March and June.


In late March, NAR announced the return of its “Right Tools, Right Now,” program that was first rolled out after the U.S. housing crisis that preceded the Great Recession more than a decade ago. That initiative provides the association’s 1.4 million members access to more than $50 million in products and financial services during the pandemic, officials said.


“This initiative, which was activated in 2009 in another time of unique need, will make new and existing NAR products and services immediately available to Realtors at reduced or no cost,” said NAR CEO Bob Goldberg. “I want NAR members to know we will continue fighting so every Realtor has the tools and information they need to emerge from this crisis stronger and more prepared for their future.”


In addition to NAR’s online toolbox for its real estate agents, the nation’s largest trade association has also held recent virtual conference calls and legislative meetings with top U.S. lawmakers and Trump administration on COVID-19 policy issues. The influential real estate trade has also spoken out on recent social unrest following the death of George Floyd and other controversial issues involving racial and sexual orientation and gender discrimination.


For instance, NAR strong backed the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on June 15 affirming workplace discrimination protection for LGBTQ individuals nationwide. The 6-3 opinion states that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protecting individuals from workplace discrimination based on sex also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. 


Pandemic Policy Proposals


In a statement, NAR President Vince Malta said the association counts many LGBTQ members among its rank. The nation’s largest trade group includes the Arkansas Realtors Association, the Little Rock Realtors Association and several other NAR chapters in Central Arkansas and other areas of the state.


“NAR amended its code of ethics to prohibit discrimination in real estate based on sexual orientation in 2010 and gender identity in 2013.  Now, all LGBTQ persons will have this same peace of mind in the workplace,” said Malta, a San Francisco-based real estate broker.  “Many minorities unfortunately know the sickening feeling that comes with the fear of losing a job because of prejudice. This ruling today is a victory for fairness at a time our country needs it most. It offers momentum in the fight for equality for all persons suffering under the weight of intolerance and bias.”


AGCA has also been actively pushing for policy changes for the nation’s construction industry, which has seen employment levels shrink in 49 states and has lost nearly one million or 13% of the industry’s total employment from March to April. In Arkansas, the construction sector has shed 1,700 of its 52,800 jobs during the pandemic, U.S. Labor Department data shows.


The construction trade group has recently stepped up lobbying efforts for a $1 trillion infrastructure stimulus package by being consider by the Trump administration to keep the economy from diving deeper into a recession. Congress has already approved two rounds of funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act totaling more than $2.5 trillion. The Federal Reserve has also provided up to $2.3 trillion in loans, credit and cash flow to support the economy during the pandemic.


“Washington’s temporary relief measures appear to have helped the construction industry avoid even more layoffs,” said Stephen Sandherr, the AGCA’s chief executive. “Now Congress and the administration need to focus on measures that will revive the economy, rebuild demand for construction and restore American jobs.” 


One of the other policy issues taken up most of the nation’s larger business trade groups is the recent push to exempt businesses from lawsuits during the pandemic. On Monday (June 15), Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued three executives orders clarifying Arkansas’ workers compensation law and liability protections for businesses and health providers related to the spread of COVID-19.


Under the governor’s two immunity orders, employers and health providers will be protected from civil liability related to virus, which has now surpassed 13,000 confirmed cases and 185 deaths in Arkansas. That immunity, however, does not apply to willful, reckless or intentional misconduct, or extend to worker compensation benefits. 


Both orders by Gov. Hutchinson were supported by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas, the state’s largest trade organization that represents thousands of large and small businesses.


“I want to thank the General Assembly for its leadership in securing support for limited immunity legislation and for requesting action by the executive order versus calling a special session during the pandemic,” Hutchinson said during a June 15 press briefing.


Arkansas is also now one of a handful of states that have given businesses civil immunity relating to COVID-19. In Washington, D.C., Sen. Majority Leaders is expected to do battle with Democrats over proposed broader national coronavirus liability shield law for industry.


PHOTOS CAPTION:  (Photo courtesy of National Association of Manufacturers)


The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) has released a detailed agenda of supply chain policy recommendations to help policymakers as Congress and the Trump administration look at ways to boost long-term economic growth.