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With a still-sluggish economy and ongoing concerns about U.S. government labor policies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's economic and workplace outlook suggested U.S. businesses have little to celebrate.

Speaking Thursday at the Chamber's annual Labor Day briefing in Washington, D.C., Martin Regalia and Randy Johnson, senior vice presidents at the group, painted a gloomy picture for U.S. companies in the coming months. Businesses should expect an economy that shows only minimal improvement and brace for a more progressive labor agenda, they said.

"It's very hard for me to be greatly optimistic on this Labor Day [that] we're going to be able to employ the people in the future that we used to employ in the past,” said Regalia, who serves as the Chamber's chief economist, “and be able to provide the people in the future the kind of increases in the standard of living they have become accustomed to over the last decade."

Johnson, who focuses on labor, immigration, and employee benefits, took aim at the U.S. Labor Department, National Labor Relations Board, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC is "going over the top" on bringing cases against businesses, Johnson said. Among the cases he highlighted was EEOC v. Freeman, in which the agency alleged that Freeman Cos. discriminated against minority and male job applicants. U.S. District Judge Roger Titus in Maryland dismissed the case on August 9, writing that the EEOC gave unreliable expert testimony to demonstrate disparate impact stemming from the event services company's practices.

"Don't they have something better to do over at that agency than to bring these kinds of cases?" Johnson asked.

He also took issue with recent NLRB efforts related to protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act's Section 7, which covers employee rights. Johnson noted that the NLRB struck down a company's rule on employee courtesy. The agency last year found that Karl Knauz Motors Inc.'s rule that encouraged courteous behavior violated the statute.

"What is in their mind over there that they can't find more legitimate problems to go after?" Johnson said.

The Chamber also has concerns about Labor Secretary Tom Perez, whom the U.S. Senate confirmed along party lines last month. Perez previously served as head of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor.

"We're watching him, and we're going to do what we can," Johnson said.

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