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Wed Nov 21, 2012, 08:34 AM

Can we do this now? [View all]

Dave Jamieson

Raise Minimum Wage By 35 Percent, Peg It To Inflation: Senate Dem

WASHINGTON -- Legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Thursday included a litany of measures aimed at boosting income for low-wage workers, most notably raising the minimum wage significantly and pegging it to inflation.

Along with spending on school modernization and renewable energy development, the Rebuild America Act calls for raising the minimum wage from the current federal level of $7.25 to $9.80 -- a 35 percent hike -- over the course of two and a half years, then indexing it so it rises with the cost of living. For restaurant servers and other tipped employees, the minimum wage before tips would leap from the current $2.13 to $6.86, and then track at 70 percent of the normal minimum wage.

The bill would also require employers to offer their workers paid sick days, make more white-collar workers eligible for overtime pay that they're currently exempted from, and give more workers the right to join a union.

In short, Harkin's bill, pitched as a prescription to rebuild the American middle class, hits all the right notes for worker advocates who say low- and middle-income earners are falling behind. The package was quickly praised by groups such as the AFL-CIO federation of labor unions; the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers; and the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a national group representing restaurant employees.

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Harkin’s Rebuild America Act Builds Economy for 99%

Mike Hall

Saying there can be no economic recovery without the recovery of the middle class, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) today introduced the Rebuild America Act. The legislation would, says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

achieve shared prosperity by putting America back to work, rebuilding our infrastructure, repairing our safety net and insisting that shared sacrifice start at the top—with Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans.


The Rebuild America Act, says Trumka, “addresses many unmet needs that have been ignored for far too long.”

The bill would revive the manufacturing sector so we can make things in America again, increase Social Security benefits and restore the minimum wage’s purchasing power. Sen. Harkin recognizes that fairness requires us to ensure workers don’t lose overtime protections to inflation, discourage rampant speculation on Wall Street, alleviate the cost of child care for working families and other overdue reforms.

Harkin says his legislation “will ensure that all workers have a right to join together and stand up for fair wages and working conditions and that employers face real penalties for violating that right.”

Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, says the bill:

offers strong medicine for what ails America—and a stunning rebuke both to those who say we can’t afford to invest in our future and to those who would cut vital investments to the bone.


Harkin bill would revive the American Dream

by Lawrence Mishel and Ross Eisenbrey

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, has introduced a bill that shows the way to a better economic future for most Americans. The Rebuild America Act tackles many of the biggest problems that hold back the American economy and shut off opportunity for working families.

It’s an omnibus bill that will increase employment by making big infrastructure investments, developing renewable energy systems, addressing unfair foreign trade practices, providing assistance to state and local governments to retain police, firefighters and teachers, ending tax breaks that encourage companies to move jobs offshore, and promoting manufacturing in the United States.

It will help workers get a decent return on their education and their work by strengthening the minimum wage and overtime laws, better protecting the right to join a union and bargain collectively, enhancing retirement security, and guaranteeing paid sick leave.


We want to particularly applaud Sen. Harkin for his courage in swimming against the tide in two critical areas: Social Security and labor policy. The Rebuild America Act rejects the notion that Social Security is too expensive and that we can’t afford to meet the promises we made to America’s workers: That if they worked hard for a lifetime, they could retire with guaranteed benefits and inflation protection. Too many other politicians are ready, if not eager, to cut Social Security’s cost of living protection and to reduce benefits by raising the retirement age, no matter that such changes have the biggest impact on the retirement security of women and blue-collar and low-income workers, many of whom have seen little or no increase in life expectancy. By contrast, Sen. Harkin knows workers need more help, not less; that fewer and fewer workers have pensions; that 401(k) accounts are insufficient and undependable sources of retirement income; that Social Security is steadily replacing less and less of pre-retirement income; and that the Social Security COLA is not too generous, but rather too skimpy to keep up with the cost of health care inflation that drives the spending of older workers.

The Rebuild America Act therefore replaces the Social Security COLA formula with one that better accounts for cost inflation in the products and services that older workers pay for. It raises benefits across the board. And it pays for these improvements and addresses the program’s long-term revenue shortfall by “scrapping the cap” – eliminating the loophole that shelters incomes above $110,100 from Social security taxes.

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Sen. Harkin Bill Would End America’s Time As Only Developed Nation Without Paid Sick Days

By Pat Garofalo

The U.S. has the weakest labor protections in the industrialized world, and is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee workers some sort of paid sick leave. Lost productivity due to sick workers attending work and infecting other employees costs the U.S. economy $180 billion annually.

Yesterday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) released the Rebuild America Act, and one of its many provisions would ensure that all workers have access to paid sick days. Inevitably, proposals of this sort draw the ire of Big Business, which claims that every policy meant to aid workers will drive up costs and increase joblessness. But as David Madland noted yesterday, that simply isn’t the case:

The aftermath of the Great Recession has cultivated a fear that policies that support workers and their families will subsequently constrain business profitability and cause employers to lay off workers or close their doors entirely. Contrary to fears from the business community, the passage of paid sick days legislation in San Francisco (the first city to enact such a law) did not hamper job growth. In fact San Francisco created more jobs and experienced more economic growth after passing the law than the surrounding counties without such legislation.

According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, a lack of paid sick days led to millions of additional cases of H1N1 flu in 2009. Since the federal government hasn’t acted, several cities have passed paid sick day requirements of their own (though Republicans in Wisconsin overrode Milwaukee’s law last year). Harkin’s bill — in addition to its myriad other strong proposals — would end America’s shameful rein as the only developed nation that forces workers to choose between their health and their job.


The Importance of a Strong Middle Class

And this:

Democratic Senator Introduces Bill To Lift Social Security’s Tax Cap, Extend Solvency For Decades

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