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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 18, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 38
Sen. Patty Murray seeks more protections for workers: Introduces WAGE Act
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Sen. Patty Murray seeks more protections for workers: Introduces WAGE Act

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Washington's senior U.S. senator Patty Murray has introduced potentially groundbreaking legislation to protect workers from intimidation and retaliation by their employers.

The Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act was introduced September 16, with Murray and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) as the main sponsors.

The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 - sometimes known as the Wagner Act - to 'increase protections for all workers, union or not,' and it will 'help open up the pathways to equal pay, increased safety and higher wages,' Murray said in a statement.

'Unfortunately, when workers want to improve working conditions, some companies do everything they can to prevent workers from having a voice in the workplace,' the senator said at the press event announcing the bill.

'And our labor law lacks the remedies that would discourage these unlawful tactics. That's why the WAGE Act is so important. It would strengthen protections for all workers - whether they are union members or not. And it would provide the same tools found in other employment and civil rights laws.'

The Wagner Act was a signature New Deal law that opened the way for the union organizing drives in the 1930s that led to the formation of a solid U.S. middle class. Unfortunately, many labor advocates say, existing law still does not provide adequate penalties for employers who try to intimidate workers from demanding their legal rights.

The WAGE Act would increase workers' rights and protections by:

o Tripling the back pay that employers must pay to workers who are fired by their employers or suffer other retaliation, regardless of immigration status

o Providing workers with a private right of action, allowing them to bring suit to recover monetary damages and attorneys' fees in federal district court, just as they can under civil rights laws

o Providing for federal court injunctions to immediately return fired workers to their jobs

o Ensuring employers will be jointly responsible for violations affecting workers supplied by another employer

The bill would also put an end to incentives for employers to interfere with workers' rights by:

o Establishing civil penalties up to $50,000 for employers that commit unfair labor practices and doubled penalties for repeat violations. This would bring the NLRA in line with other workplace laws.

o Giving the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) authority to impose penalties on officers and directors of employer violators

o Allowing the NLRB to issue a bargaining order if it found that an employer prevented a free and fair employee vote on joining a union, provided that a majority of employees signed union authorization cards within the previous 12 months

o Setting a 30-day time limit for employers to challenge an NLRB decision, after which the NLRB decision becomes final and binding unless a court directs otherwise. The NLRB could then go directly to district court to enforce its orders.

'The WAGE Act is a critical first step in addressing both a changing economy and labor laws that have failed to keep up with a changing workplace,' AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said at the press event with Murray and Scott.

'The economy is a set of rules that for too long have been rigged against working people. The WAGE Act is about changing these rules - for all working people, whether they're in a union or not. It's a bold first step and a key thread to the larger fabric of the raising wages agenda.'

The legislation faces an uphill battle, with both the Senate and House controlled by Republicans who are hostile to unions.

Nevertheless, 'this is the kind of legislation we should be working on in Congress,' Murray said.

'Instead, some Republicans seem more interested in pushing us toward another crisis than working with us to help workers and the economy. But I am going to be fighting for this, and many more pieces of legislation, that help make sure our country, our government and our workplaces work for all families, not just the biggest corporations or the wealthiest few.'

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