On November 16, 2017; twenty-one SHRM members from Wisconsin (the largest group from all 50 states) took part in the SHRM Volunteer Leader’s Summit Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. The 21 Wisconsin SHRM members represented chapter leaders from local SHRM chapters from all across Wisconsin. Our mission was to arrive on Capitol Hill to meet with the offices of Senator Tammy Baldwin and Senator Ron Johnson, as well as our members in the House of Representatives to discuss several issues important to the human resources community as well as to our employers and employees.
To prepare for the day, over 400 SHRM members from across the country gathered bright and early at the conference hotel to receive updates from a number of seasoned experts from the SHRM Government Affairs Team. This included updates from Vice President Mike Aitken, Senior Advisor for Governmental Affairs; Kathleen Coulombe, Director of Congressional Affairs Lisa Horn; and Senior Associate for Member Advocacy, Meredith Nethercutt. Each provided timely valuable information that would help us to confidently share our stories and information with our elected officials and their staff. After the informative briefing, a total of six buses transported all of us for the short ride to Capitol Hill where we started up the hill for our first meetings in one of three Senate Office buildings.
Our first meeting for the Wisconsin group was with the office of Senator Ron Johnson in the Hart Senate Office Building. With such a large group, we actually met with Legislative Correspondent, Annie Chestnut in the hallway outside of Senator Johnson’s office suite. As the “volunteered” spokesperson for our group, I explained who SHRM is and that we were HR professionals representing employers and employees from all across Wisconsin. We addressed and advocated for two primary issues which were Tax Reform and Employer-Provided Benefits and the Workflex in the 21st Century Act.
For both issues, we were well prepared to speak on the issues from the information provided by SHRM Government Affairs, but we were also able to offer our personal insights about how federal policies and legislation impact our employers and those that work for our organizations. Having the opportunity to hear real life stories directly from constituents is something that Senator Johnson’s staff appreciated.
After our initial meeting, our group met with the office of Senator Tammy Baldwin, a few floors up in the Hart Senate Office Building. For this meeting, we were able to find a conference room that accommodated our large group, and met with Legislative Correspondent, Amar Pandya. For this meeting, we didn’t have to explain who SHRM was as Amar’s mother is a human resources professional in Chicago and he was very aware of the organization. This was a great connection to make as we talked about our two advocacy issues. Amar asked a number of questions about our issues and looked forward to sharing our information with Senator Baldwin.
With our two Senate meetings concluded, our group left the Hart Senate Office Building and broke off to prepare for our meetings with our individual members in the House of Representatives. Members of our Wisconsin group were meeting with the offices of all but one of our seven members of the House.
As we walked to the House office buildings along the east side of the Capitol, we noticed that there was a lot of activity on Capitol Hill and learned that President Donald Trump had made his way to the Capitol from the White House. The House was going to be taking an important vote on the tax reform bill, and we later learned that President Trump had been meeting with Republican House members before the scheduled vote. With helicopters flying above and police tape and barriers blocking a number of entrances to the Capitol, we made our way to the Longworth House Office Building.
For my House meeting, I was joined by two colleagues from Wisconsin’s First Congressional District. Stacy Warn, a human resources manager from Janesville, Wisconsin was participating in her first advocacy day visit. Jane Kurylo, a human resources manager from Bristol, Wisconsin had participated in last year’s SHRM VLS Advocacy Day. For me, this was my second advocacy day visit this year, having participated in the SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference Advocacy Day in March.
We arrived at the Longworth House Office Building and made our way to our congressman’s office. We did not anticipate meeting with our representative since his role is somewhat different from the other members of Congress as our representative, Congressman Paul Ryan, also serves as the Speaker of House of Representatives. He was on the House floor when we arrived.
Our meeting was with Senior Legislative Assistant, Paul Hallett who both Jane and I had met in previous SHRM Advocacy Day meetings. Paul provided us with some insight regarding the tax reform legislation which was being debated on the floor while we were meeting and informed us that a vote was expected in about 90 minutes. Our group explained that we understood that the House bill repeals education assistance programs under Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Service code and that we hoped that in conference committee that this would remain untouched as the Senate bill appears to do.
With our formal advocacy meetings complete, our group took the opportunity to take a quick, staff-led tour of the Capitol. Since the Capitol had been locked down for the President’s visit, it was eerie to walk into the massive Capitol rotunda with only two others in view besides our group. After a brief stop in Statuary Hall, where the media was assembled to interview members of Congress after the vote. Our tour concluded with a visit to the Speaker’s Office and an amazing view of the Mall from the Speaker’s Balcony before a final stop in the House Gallery.
While the overall experience on Capitol Hill was memorable, upon reflection it was probably most rewarding to know that each of us may have made some small impact for our profession by taking time to share our thoughts during our advocacy visits. As a former state legislative staff member in Wisconsin, I recall that the meetings that had the most impact on me and resonated the most with me and my boss were the face-to-face meetings with constituents where they shared their personal stories. While an elected official’s office will receive many phone calls, letters, post cards and emails; it is the personal, interactive meetings that seem to have the greatest impact. I personally find it so rewarding that we have the opportunity to participate in activities such as these, and I hope that everyone takes the opportunity to participate in the activities that the SHRM Advocacy Team provides both in Washington, DC and in our home districts to make a difference and continue to advance our profession through advocacy.