During the 2015 SHRM Volunteer Leaders’ Summit, one of the activities I participated in was a visit to Capitol Hill. I’ve visited the Hill before but it had been a long time so I wanted to do it again.
Later in the conference, I was chatting with another attendee about the experience. She told me that she wished she had participated but, she was reluctant to go because she didn’t feel prepared.
Visiting Capitol Hill should not be a frightening experience. Our legislators want to hear from us. So for those who have never visited Capitol Hill or it’s been a long time, let me demystify the process a little.
It’s okay to meet with both Democrats and Republicans.
First things first - meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill isn’t about Democrats and Republicans. At no point will anyone ask for your Voter ID card. These meetings are about business. Specifically, how proposed legislation will impact your organization and your ability to recruit, engage and retain talent in the workplace. That doesn’t change based upon who you’re talking with.
If anything, it can be very enlightening to hear a political view different from your own. In HR, we’re used to hearing different points of view (POV) all the time.
SHRM takes care of the details – all of them!
Kudos to the SHRM Government Affairs team for their attention to detail. When you sign up for a Capitol Hill visit, here’s what happens:
- There’s a webinar prior to arriving in Washington to go over what will happen on the day of the Capitol Hill visit.
- On the day of the visit, we were given time to meet with the other HR pros from our state. SHRM also provides a debrief of the specific issues we will be discussing with legislators. For our visit, it was the Affordable Care Act (ACA) excise tax and the proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA.)
- SHRM gives each participant talking points about the legislative issues and a summary of data about your state (population, demographics, etc.) So you really don’t have any homework beyond reading a few pages.
- SHRM also provides you with a notebook which includes the same talking points that you can leave at the legislator’s office. So they can review the details at their leisure.
- Lastly, all of the logistics are handled by SHRM. We were bussed over to the Capitol (and back), given a couple bucks in lunch money and an umbrella because the weather was unpredictable.
When I tell you SHRM makes sure you’re prepared, I’m not kidding! It was incredibly organized.
It's not about meeting the Senator or Representative.
I met with my two Senators and one Representative. Well, let me clarify, I met with the staffers of my two Senators and one Representative. There was a vote going on in the House of Representatives about Syrian refugees so my Congresswoman needed to be there. Totally understandable. But from a timing perspective, it was three appointments in a single morning.
I know some people were disappointed that they didn’t get to meet with their elected official. While I wouldn’t have turned down the chance to meet them, the important part was having my POV heard. And I believe that often happens through their staffers. They are responsible for being the subject matter experts (SME) and advising the legislator. No different than what happens in our organizations – the CEO looks to us as the SME in HR.
One voice can make an impact.
Another comment I heard during the conference was that going to Capitol Hill was a waste of time because “my legislator isn’t going to listen to me.” I completely understand. But personally, I do not expect my legislator to have an epiphany after one 30-minute conversation.
I would challenge people to think about their visit to Capitol Hill this way: SHRM organized over 400 people to visit Congress. We came at the same time to talk about the same issues. To organize such an effort speaks volumes about the role that HR professionals want to play in legislation that impacts business.
While the federal spending package is still pending, I’d like to think that our visit to Capitol Hill had an impact on Congress’ recent proposal to postpone the ACA excise tax until 2020.
Hank Jackson said in his opening remarks, “In Washington, you’re either ‘at the table’ or ‘on the menu.’” The point being that HR needs to be at the table – the advocacy table. Today’s business issues are often human resources issues. If we don’t make our voices heard, we cannot impact change in our organizations. Washington needs our leadership. Get involved.
Oh, and P.S. If you’re planning to attend SHRM’s Employment Law & Legislative Conference in March 2016, plan to visit Capitol Hill. You’ll be glad you did.