Supporting the rights of workers has been one of my commitments since I first ran for elected office. Our workers are the backbone of the economy and deserve wages and protections equal to the value they contribute. I have worked to end discrimination in the workplace and ensure the fundamental rights of workers are upheld.
In the 114th Congress, I have made sure to cosponsor the resolution on the Working Families Agenda in order to make it easier for people in my district and across the nation to be able to achieve the American dream. I continue to fight for higher wages for hard working families and more protections for all workers. Some of the legislations I have cosponsored include:
- The Raise the Wage Act (HR 2150) to increase the minimum wage and abolish the outdated tipped minimum wage; the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy Act (HR 3514) to strengthen workers’ ability to collectively bargain for higher wages and better working conditions; and the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act (HR (3427) to end the misclassification of employees as independent contractors which leads to the erosion of wages and benefits.
- Today, women make up nearly 50 percent of the workforce and 40 percent of primary breadwinners. And men are increasingly shouldering more responsibilities at home. Yet our workplace policies are stuck in the Leave it to Beaver, solo-breadwinner era. We need policies that will make sure no women or men have to choose between the job they need and the family the love: The Healthy Families Act (HR 932) guarantees workers the right to earn up to seven paid sick days to care for themselves or a loved one who is sick; the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (HR 1439) ensures that workers can take paid family and medical leave when they need it; the Schedules that Work Act (HR 3071) provides flexible, predictable and stable work schedules; and the Strong Start Act (HR 2411) gives workers access to high-quality early-learning opportunities, and more affordable, stable child care.
- Discrimination remains an all-too persistent barrier to working families’ ability to climb the ladder to the middle class. That’s why I also cosponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act (HR 1619) which puts teeth into the law protecting workers from pay discrimination to help close the wage gap; the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (HR 2654) which ensures that women can get job accommodations when they need them to continue working safely during pregnancy; and the Equality Act (HR 3185) which makes unmistakably clear that workplace discrimination against LGBT individuals is illegal.
Like so many of you, Congressman Gutiérrez is deeply opposed to Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). For more than two decades, he has opposed every supposed “free trade” agreement because they are so often made at the expense of the environment and workers around the globe. Despite his opposition, Fast Track was passed in the House and Senate. Given this reality, it was time to step up for workers and their families impacted by globalization, and that is why Congressman Gutiérrez voted for them to have access to Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).
The Congressman stated “I support the President on many things, but I have never and will never support the international trade agreements labeled as ‘free trade’ because they hurt U.S. workers and do not adequately protect the environment. It is important to have a consistent voting record on that. at the same time as opposing the Trade Promotion Authority bill, it is absolutely important to support assistance for U.S. workers who will be hurt by international trade agreements. Working people in Chicago will need help if these international trade agreements move forward and I stand by my vote.”
Prior to 114th Congress
In response to the rising tide of unemployment, I introduced new legislation to strengthen protections for laid-off workers. H.R. 2077, the Alert Laid off Employees in Reasonable Time (ALERT) Act, amends the federal WARN Act, under which employers are only required to provide 60-days notice if a mass layoff impacts at least 500 employees or a third of a workforce that is greater than 49 employees at one employment site. My bill would extend the definition of "mass layoff" to include layoffs by one employer at more than one worksite, as well as increase the penalty for violating the WARN Act and doubling back pay for violated workers, among other protections. Our hardworking men and women are the backbone of our economy and we owe them laws that are as strong as their work ethic.
In December 2008, I engaged the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Republic Windows and Doors when it abruptly gave its 250 workers three days notice of termination. With the holiday season less than three weeks away, the factory appeared to have violated the WARN Act by leaving employees without compensation and without health insurance. I helped negotiate a settlement with Bank of America, Republic Windows and Doors and the United Electrical Workers to ensure that workers were paid their rightfully-owed eight-weeks salary, all accrued vacation and two months paid healthcare.
Today the working poor are one of the largest growing sectors of the economy. They fulfill many of the basic needs of our communities, but their efforts are not rewarded with wages sufficient to care for a family's basic needs. I strongly believe we should value and reward the hard work of the American people with a decent, livable minimum wage. After urging my colleagues over several years to support an increase, Congress passed legislation in 2007 to increase the minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The increase was implemented in three steps, with the final increase occurring on July 24, 2009, bringing the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. The increase was long overdue, but there is more to be done. The 2009 federal poverty level for a family of four as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services is $22,050 annually. A full time worker would have to earn $10.60 per hour to reach that standard.
To reduce this disparity, I have introduced the Federal Living Wage Responsibility Act, H.R. 1334. This act would have required the Federal government and any employer under a Federal contract or subcontract exceeding $10,000 to pay each of their respective workers an hourly wage (or salary equivalent) necessary for such employee to earn at least the amount of the Federal poverty level for a family of four as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services. With this legislation, the worker would also be entitled to receive an additional amount, based on the locality in which he or she resides, sufficient to cover the costs to obtain any fringe benefits not provided by the worker's employer.
This year I learned of companies taking out life insurance policies on everyone from the CEO to the janitor, where the employer is the sole beneficiary. In the event of the employees death, the company cashes in the policy, tax free. I believe that life insurance policies should benefit the family of the deceased, not a speculating corporation. In September 2009 I introduced the Employer-Owned Life Insurance Limitation Act, H.R. 3669. This legislation will prohibit companies from taking out an employer-owned life insurance policy on any employee, except individuals earning $1 million or more in salary, whose death would pose a significant financial risk to the company. For eligible employees, employers are required to provide timely notification of the policy, and the bill establishes penalties for companies that purchase policies on employees who make less than $1 million in salary. H.R. 3669 will stop the practice of taking out policies without an employee's knowledge and maintaining them long after the employee has moved on to another company.
I have been proud to stand with workers throughout my tenure in Congress and am committed to ensuring they receive the protections they have earned.