Workers participate in “Solidarity Sunday” at the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, Sept. 22, 2019 | Andrew Roth
A group of Michigan House Democrats on Monday gathered to announce a package of bills focused on improving the compensation, protection and support of Michigan workers.
“It’s about stability and opportunity,” said state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt), the lead sponsor of the legislation.
Hope said the series of reforms will, among other things, provide guarantees to workers about the “how” and “why” of their jobs in order to reduce job insecurity.
“The truth is that times have changed, and for many Michiganders, simply having a job no longer guarantees that they’ll be able to make ends meet,” Hope said. “Stagnant wages, combined with the rising cost of living, have meant that … many are working twice as hard for less pay.”
Hope’s legislation includes the creation of a Temporary Worker Bill of Rights, which would ensure various protections to temporary workers, and the Employee Fair Scheduling Act, which would protect employees from unfair scheduling practices.
The full package, put forward by eight House Democrats, contains eight bills and one House resolution.
House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) says the legislation is part of a concerted effort from House Dems to push for better worker protections during September, a.k.a. “Labor Month.”
“We’ve spent this month not just talking the talk, but walking the walk,” Greig said.
Her bill would increase the threshold for workers to be exempt from overtime pay to $55,000.
Greig added that the legislation being proposed “couldn’t be more timely” with the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike about to enter into its eighth day, but is not a direct response to the strike itself.
“It’s absolutely time in this state and in this country that workers continue to organize, and to stand up for their rights, but they need a Legislature that has their back. And we need to have these protections in law for our workers because [they] drive the economy,” Greig said.
State Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) says her bill, House BIll 4183, would introduce a new state Dependent Care Credit to “provide relief for working families with children” by offsetting the cost of childcare, caring for an elderly or disabled parent, or other dependent.
“Childcare expenses often cost more than a mortgage payment,” Anthony said. “… And more and more of today’s workers are not only raising their children, but also taking care of parents and elderly relatives as well. My bill acknowledges the financial burden that this can place on families.”
Another element of the plan would restore Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from where it is now — at 6% of the federal rate — back to 20%, where the EITC was before it was slashed under former Gov. Rick Snyder almost a decade ago.
“Legislative leadership in 2011 shifted the state’s taxes onto the backs of the working families by slashing things like the EITC in favor of unnecessary pet projects and tax cuts to the wealthy,” said state Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp).
Restoring the EITC to its pre-2011 level, Witwer says, would allow workers to keep more of their money and potentially lift thousands of Michigan families out of poverty.
State Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City), chair of the Michigan Legislative Labor Caucus, also spoke at the press conference in support of the legislation.
“Michigan has the proud distinction of having once been the standard bearer for working class jobs. Our jobs once defined middle class stability, providing a rubric for other states to follow. … Yet recently, that heritage seems to have been forgotten,” Elder said.
Elder said the package, along with similar legislation introduced this month and year, is the result of a concerted effort to return to “Michigan values” that prioritize the needs and financial security of workers, rather than “the wants of wealthy corporate CEOs.”
Other bills in the package aim to address shortages in the skilled trades workforce and increase the number of women in skilled trades professions; to require severance pay for employees terminated because of a company shutdown, relocation or mass layoff; to mandate meal breaks during shifts; and to clarify that severance pay would not conflict with any unemployment benefits.
“I’m hopeful that we can work together to see this legislation passed and sent to the governor’s desk quickly,” Hope said. “We’re talking about the American dream, the ability to do better than the generation before — and that’s something we should all support.”
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