Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wage Theft Act: more paperwork for NY businesses

By Bob Confer

Business owners and managers like to spend their time doing productive things that make them, their company, their coworkers, and their clients better. A business and all it affects are never made better by tasks that have absolutely no positive economic benefit; time and money spent on such endeavors can never be recouped and the positive actions that could have been done in their place are either delayed or suspended entirely. That, in a nutshell, is what makes meaningless government regulations so utterly frustrating.

A good many New York businessmen and women are unaware that one of these headaches, something called the Wage Theft Prevention Act (WTPA), will require their undivided attention come January. This law went into effect in April of this year and, going forward, requires employers to provide detailed pay notices to their employees during January of every year and/or within 7 days of a wage adjustment (raise).

The pay notification process isn’t very simple. A document must be provided to the worker that specifically indicates the employer’s name, phone number and mailing address, the employee’s pay rate, the basis of pay (hourly, salary, etc), allowances, and payday. The workers must sign-off, acknowledging their receipt and understanding of the information provided. One signed copy of the document is given to the employee while another copy is held by the employer for 6 years.

Due to the confidential nature of the primary issue being discussed (pay rate), the notification, in most cases, cannot be done collectively. Human resources or another manager will have to take the individual from his or her working duties (and have a reliever assume that person’s role for the interim) and to a private room to go over the details and gain the signature.

For each worker that task could take up to 10 minutes. Now, imagine the hassle that WTPA creates for a company the size of Confer Plastics (200 employees). The HR manager will have to spend 33.3 hours – more than three-quarters of a standard workweek – just conducting the one-on-ones. Look at a company the size of Delphi (1,500 workers). The manager, or a crew of managers, will have to devote 250 hours to this task. Think about that: That’s more than 6 weeks spent on producing paperwork that no one truly benefits from.

If said businesses issue annual raises the whole process will have to be completed all over again in that same calendar year! The process, of course, is also repeated every January.

It’s not as if an employer can opt of this. Compliance is mandatory and the Department of Labor will charge a company $50 per week per employee if they forget to issue the form, $100 per week if the form is incorrect. An affected worker can also sue the employer for damages (what damages?) to a maximum of $2,500 if they have not received a notice or have received an incorrect one.

Businesses requiring assistance in the process can find numerous WTPA templates and forms on the Department of Labor’s website at: www.labor.ny.gov

But does that help? Not really.

If the state truly wanted to make a difference and help employers, they would drop this law, just as has been suggested by a few of the Regional Economic Development Councils empowered by Governor Cuomo to produce solutions that will make New York more business friendly. They’ve made it known that regulations like these – coupled with excessive taxation – account for the economic wasteland that the upstate region has become because, quite frankly, who can make money when the state does everything it can to make sure you don’t?

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at bobconfer@juno.com.


This column originally ran in the 28 November 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Obama Administration targets farm youth

By Bob Confer

Farming is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. The job is never done, and it’s never easy; it takes a special soul to work the long, hard days during the planting and harvesting seasons or live the vacation-free existence that comes with animal husbandry. At the same time, it’s the most important industry on the planet and farmers will tell you it’s the most fulfilling: Besides raising a family, there is little on Earth more rewarding than tending the soil and growing from it - and raising on it – valuable nourishment for others.

To prepare someone for that intense lifestyle you need to start young and introduce teens to the work ethic and investment of self that are necessary to develop a love affair with farming. Youth have long been able to participate in agricultural work, but, that could change soon. The Obama Administration has unveiled a series of proposed revisions to child labor law specific to farming. Citing provisions that have remained virtually untouched since 1970, the Administration felt compelled to modernize them. That act of modernization will irreparably harm farming’s future by destroying its very foundation - the youth who should represent tomorrow’s workforce and farm owners.

Under the new rules, the Department of Labor (DOL) would end most child labor exemptions that currently exist in farming by denying work to anyone under the age of 16 unless the farm is owned by their parents and one of the parents is directly overseeing their work.

Furthermore, most 14 and 15 year-old workers would be prevented from operating any tractor, all-terrain vehicle, milking machine, or lawn mower. Now, exemptions exist that allow them to operate such equipment given they complete a 24 hour safety course typically provided by the private sector via farm bureaus or through public-private Cooperative Extension offices. The proposed rules would create and require a 90-hour course that could only be taught through government-run secondary and/or vocational schools. This would add another layer of federal bureaucracy to local school districts; increase the cost to taxpayers associated with the wages, benefits and pensions for the newfound teaching positions; or, more likely, deprive thousands of youth of farming opportunity because their local schools – or any one within reasonable commute - will be unable to provide them the necessary training.

Adding even more hassle, untrained youth will not be allowed in the proximity of any motorized device during their course of work, meaning that young farm workers could not be anywhere near an elevator or even a wagon pulled behind a tractor, preventing them from baling hay or loading and unloading barns, even though they are nowhere near the controls.

The insanity of the standards doesn’t end there. Everyone under the age of 18 will be strictly prohibited from any and all acts of animal husbandry. They won’t be able to corral and herd cattle, pigs or poultry. They won’t be allowed to brand, breed, treat or raise animals. They’d be denied access to stockyards, cattle auctions, and feed lots. They can’t pitch manure or feed chickens or cows.

They’ll have to wait until adulthood to do any of those tasks. Even Future Farmers of America and 4-H won’t be able to give teenagers the experience they need to be productive rural adults. Because of the limitations proposed by the DOL, those organizations will become mostly obsolete, legally unable to provide the animal rearing experience that has produced many a fine farmer for decades.

Fortunately, there is a chance to stop these proposals from becoming law. The DOL is currently accepting comments regarding their proposals. The deadline, which was originally November 1st , has been moved to December 1st due to the initial criticisms and concerns that were certain to befall such laws. Referencing RIN 1235-AA06 and docket ID WHD-2011-0001, submit your comments electronically at www.regulations.gov/ or by mail at: Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, Room S- 3502, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20210.

Public participation in this decision-making process is a must. If left unabated, the Executive Branch will pass these rules. If we allow it to eliminate the important agricultural lessons from one’s formative years, we will rob our youth of the building blocks necessary for a lifetime of farming: an appreciation for nature, the creation of an old fashioned work ethic, an irreplaceable knowledge base and the development of high moral character that comes with living of, on and for the Earth.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at bobconfer@juno.com.


This column originally ran in the 21 November 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Libya is no better off, maybe worse

By Bob Confer

All of the major news outlets, and therefore most US citizens, were downright giddy over the uprising - and NATO intervention – in Libya. Thinking it was some sort of feel good story, an extension of the Arab Spring, they reveled in the toppling of Gaddafi and threw unyielding support behind the rebel forces.

If CNN, Fox News, and the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) had done their jobs appropriately, rather than parroting the spin that came from Washington and agenda-driven foreign news agencies, they would have realized that what they were seeing was nothing more than a silver lining. Within Libya they would have found a dark cloud, a stormy uprising orchestrated by degenerates who are no better than Gaddafi was and, truthfully, may be a whole lot worse.

For starters, because of that seemingly willful omission of the facts, very few Americans knew that a good number of the rebels were al-Qaeda. Earlier this year NATO commander James Stavridis stated that many of the Libyan rebels are members of – or align themselves with – the terrorist organization. His admission is consistent with West Point studies that discovered one-fifth of all foreigners who aided Iraqi insurgents in their attacks on US troops were Libyans. One of the key Libyan rebel leaders, Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi recruited and led such raids against US forces.

Another rebel leader was Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu, who had been held in Guantanamo for 6 years before being released in an amnesty program. American intelligence reports indicated that he was a “medium-to-high risk”, a “dangerous man with no qualms about committing terrorist acts” who was “likely to pose a threat to the U.S., its interests and allies.”

Despite the knowledge of their presence and the ill will that these two men reek of, they and their equally-repugnant peers were counted as allies and heroes in the Libyan movement. The US press barely touched on the al-Qaeda issue and never questioned their allegiance or the reason for their revolution (it’s obvious it wasn’t for democratic ends).

Likewise, the press ignored something far worse: The genocidal tendencies of the so-called “freedom fighters”. It’s guaranteed that less then 1 percent of all Americans knew that Gaddafi’s enemies, during the course of the turnover, singled out the black population – men, women and children – and robbed them of their freedoms and more. They purged them from their communities. They raped the women and young girls. They imprisoned and or killed the men.

Black men especially - no matter which regime they supported (the new or the old) - were targeted throughout Libya by the rebels. Thousands were murdered by the same inhuman methods practiced by the drug cartels in Mexico. They were bound and shot in the head at point blank range. They had their throats slit. They were decapitated. They were set on fire.

One city, Tawergha, was once home to 10,000 blacks. All were forced out of it (hundreds of them killed) while their homes and businesses were destroyed. Those who were brave enough to remain were rounded up and put into camps and jails. Chillingly, neither hide nor hair of the camps can be found. Par for the course, the rebels spray-painted “negroes” and “abeed” (Arabic slang for “slave”) on the ruins of the city, like some sick trophy. All of this in the name of ethnic cleansing.

Somehow, Big Media overlooked this unsettling brand of evil that comprised the rebel forces. How could they be so oblivious to it? Were they so ecstatic over the ongoing transformation of the Middle East and Africa that reporting on the change in power was Story One and anything else was inconsequential? Were they provided unrealistic reports (propaganda) by NATO leaders that glossed over the brutality of their newfound allies? Did they willingly aid the propagandists in meeting their desired ends, no matter the consequences?

The press – the supposed seekers of truth and protectors of the innocent- failed us. They prevented us from holding our government accountable to a set of moral (and legal) standards when choosing winners and losers abroad. Because of that, we’re looking at an unsettling future. With al-Qaeda and other butchers rising to and holding power, it’s obvious that Libya is no better off. And, neither is the rest of the world.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at bobconfer@juno.com.


This column originally ran in the 14 November 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, November 3, 2011


By Bob Confer

Once the government has its foot in the door through the federally sponsored Home Visiting Program it will have carte blanche to manage all facets of child care. Failure to comply with the “suggestions” provided will likely result in intervention by family courts and other publically-provided social functions under the guise of child protection, ultimately inducing the destruction of that family unit. That’s a heady outcome from a program sold to Congress – and the people - as being voluntary.

One of the goals of the program is to improve parenting skills and child development. That in itself is a purposely nebulous endeavor: What exactly defines good parenting and a well-developed child and who sets the criteria? Looking at the social engineering that is hoist upon kids these days, some of the desired outcomes are obvious.

First and foremost will be the degradation of traditional morality. Mindsets based in religious mores will definitely be targeted. There are many parents adamant about educating their children in home and church about what they and their beliefs determine to be right and wrong. Those hard and fast rules don’t necessarily fit with what society determines to be normative today and just as many people frown upon those character lessons as appreciate them. Some reverse engineering may be required by the government to make sure a kid’s belief system is compliant with what’s supposedly acceptable.

Related to that will be an adherence to a behavioral system that demands conformity. If a parent, like I do, believes in objectivism as the guiding light to human development - that it’s the individual’s purpose and responsibility to lead a life that he or she sees fit and the pursuit thereof is the basis for happiness and advancement of self (and, ultimately, society by others doing the same) – his parenting skills will be viewed with a critical eye. In secondary and collegiate academia, there is an overwhelming promotion of teamwork (although it’s certainly anything but) and the importance of the collective that demeans self-importance, self-determination, and responsibility. The government would love to eliminate individualism at an early age and demand that the parents retool their approach and aid the government in making conformists (and dependents) out of the masses.

Next, consider the goal of “school readiness” proposed by this component of Obamacare. School readiness alludes to a belief that a child is fine only if he or she is ready for the government’s accepted standard of education. That means the Home Visiting Program could, in the supposed best interests of the youth, demand that one be removed from home schooling or private schools and be put into public schools.

School readiness is also the motivator behind Head Start and it’s likely that the Visitation Program would mandate participation in it, which actually strips parents of their roles and has proven to be completely useless to the children in it. Numerous studies have shown that Head Start is a non-starter, including one released by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010 that indicated marginal improvement in only 2 of 44 cognitive tests. Realize that since 1965 the federal government has blown $166 billion on Head Start. How much more will be thrown away when many more kids are determined eligible by their parents being deemed inadequate?

Another requirement of the Home Visitation Program is “student achievement”, holding parents accountable to children’s grades. In this day and age, low achievement doesn’t have to be attributable to bad parenting. 30 years ago, I’d say parenting was a major contributing factor. But since the Department of Education gained a stranglehold on public schools in 1980 the achievement of all students has dropped considerably (the US is rated poorly among developed nations), a direct result of federal intervention in activities best left to teachers, local school districts, and parents. How can the government blame parents – and then tear apart homes - for a mess it created?

These are just a few of the countless ways that the federal government will meddle in home affairs – and wrongly accuse parents of impropriety - once the Home Visitation Program takes root. It’s just too bad that Fox News, CNN and the like didn’t live up to the standard of the news outlets of days gone by, and hold the government accountable by analyzing all aspects of Obamacare, not just the insurance mandates. Horrors like this get passed and repealing them becomes nearly impossible.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at bobconfer@juno.com.


This column originally ran in the 07 November 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers