Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Bobby Scott of Virginia held a forum Monday, June 27 at Bowie City Hall on prohibiting workplace discrimination.
House Democrats are pushing the “Working Families Agenda,” seeking to pass several pieces of legislation that includes paid family and sick leave, equal pay and an increase of the federal minimum wage.
Hoyer, the House minority whip, said if Republican leadership would allow a vote on items such as raising the minimum wage above $7.25 per hour, it would pass.
“The last time we raised the minimum wage was in 2007,” he said. “That’s nine years that people earning the minimum wage haven’t gotten a raise, and that’s over 2.5 million to 3 million people. If consumers have no money, it goes to reason that the economy is not going to do very well.”
Heidi Shierholz, chief economist with the federal Department of Labor, said 90 percent of workers who benefit from the minimum wage increase are those 20 years of age and older.
She also said it’s a myth that employers would lose money to increase wages because it cost more to fire, rehire and retrain people.
“When wages are decent, workers are more committed to their jobs and turnover goes down,” she said. “Increase the minimum wage, you pull people out of poverty.”
Those in attendance received documents with facts and figures stressing how the United States is the richest country in the world, but still faces challenges when it comes to the office dichotomy.
According to the Working Families Agenda documents, the legislation House Democrats want to pass includes:
• the Healthy Families Act, which allows workers to earn up to seven paid sick days to care for themselves or a loved one, and addresses domestic violence;
• the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which ensures expectant mothers receive reasonable accommodations while working; and
• the Raise the Wage Act, which increases the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020.
“We needed an agenda to show that there’s a stark contrast to what is going on with the leadership of the House and what Democrats would do if we were in the lead,” said Scott, the ranking Democrat on the education committee. “These are things that we can do.”
Other paperwork highlights how some states and local jurisdictions didn’t wait for Congress to approve various pieces of legislation:
• Four states, the District and 18 other localities have earned pack sick days;
• California, New Jersey and Rhode Island offer paid family leave; and
• Vermont passed a law in 2014 for workers to request flexible schedules; workers in large chain stores and restaurants are permitted the same treatment in San Francisco.
Locally, the District has laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The city continues to discuss paid family leave legislation.
Montgomery County Council passed a sick paid leave bill last year. Prince George’s lawmakers tabled its own version, but endorsed a statewide measure. The state House approved it this year, but not in the Senate.
“There’s still a lot of education to be done. I think this is a great opportunity…for other stakeholders that are here to work together,” said state Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park, who approved the House bill and also celebrated her birthday Monday.
One statistic Peña-Melnyk presented at the forum: 185 countries offer nationwide pay family leave, but not the U.S.
“Shame on us,” she said. “We could do a lot better.”
That’s why Scott, the ranking Democrat on the education committee in Congress, said legislation must be passed immediately.
“We needed an agenda to show that there’s a stark contrast to what is going on with the leadership of the House and what Democrats would do if we were in the lead,” he said. “These are things that we can do.”