These House bills could make life better for millions of US workers

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One of the measures would lift hundreds of thousands out of poverty.

House Democrats have introduced a number of bills in the new legislative session so far aimed at helping U.S. workers, who have been struck hard by the pandemic and connected economic crisis.

Among them are the Raise the Wage Act, introduced by House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott, which would increase the federal minimum wage in annual increments from $9.50 to $15 an hour by 2025.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office released a study that found that raising wages to $15 would benefit 17 million American workers — about 10% of the labor force — and could increase earnings for another 10 million workers making slightly more than $15 an hour, according to the study.

Doing so would additionally lift 900,000 people out of poverty, the CBO noted.

While the study said raising wages would also reduce employment by 1.4 million, on Monday, the country's largest labor group told the American Independent Foundation that passing the House bill is a "no-brainer."

"Increasing the minimum wage makes economic sense, it makes political sense and it makes moral sense. When working people take home our fair share, we spend more, boost demand and create jobs. This is a no-brainer," John Weber, a spokesman for AFL-CIO, said in an email.

The Economic Policy Institute, meanwhile, says the CBO's job loss predictions are "exaggerated."

"We believe that the CBO's assumptions on the scale of job loss are just wrong and inappropriately inflated relative to what cutting-edge economics literature would indicate," the group said in a statement on Monday.

"The median employment effect of the minimum wage across studies of low-wage workers is essentially zero, according to a 2019 review of the evidence," it continued. "Another recent review found that the median employment effect on workers directly affected by the minimum wage is less than half the size of what CBO assumed in its 2019 analysis."

On Jan. 26, the policy institute released its own report that found the Raise the Wage Act, formally introduced on Jan. 28, would increase earnings for nearly 32 million workers, or 21% of the U.S. workforce.

House Democrats have also introduced a number of other measures aimed at assisting American laborers.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, introduced by Scott (D-VA) on Thursday, would protect workers' rights to organize, join a union, and collectively bargain "for fairer wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces," according to a House Education and Labor Committee press release.

The committee noted that the COVID-19 pandemic "has made it clearer than ever that our economy is benefitting the biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals—while failing workers, and in particular women and workers of color ... who disproportionately have jobs with lower wages and fewer, if any, benefits."

"[The] pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need for Congress to protect and strengthen workers' rights. Over the past year, workers across the country have been forced to work in unsafe conditions for insufficient pay, because they lacked the ability to stand together and negotiate with their employer," the press release read. "The PRO Act is an opportunity to honor the contributions of the many frontline workers during the pandemic and American workers nationwide."

In addition to protecting collective bargaining, according to a fact sheet, the PRO Act would penalize companies for violating worker protections by "assess[ing] monetary penalties for each violation in which a worker is wrongfully terminated or suffers serious economic harm."

It would also close loopholes in labor law "that erode workers' rights" and "prevents employers from misclassifying their employees and prevents workers from being denied remedies due to their immigration status."

And on Friday, the House passed a separate bill, the National Apprentice Act of 2021, that aims to create nearly 1 million apprenticeship opportunities, according to the House Education and Labor Committee.

The committee added that the starting salary for graduates who complete the Registered Apprenticeships program is $70,000, while 94% of apprentices are employed upon completion.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who lauded the bill's passage, said that the legislation would invest more than $3 billion over the next five years in apprentices who will earn an average of $15 per hour during the program.

"This legislation will help us provide opportunities to the millions of workers and their families who are out of a job due to COVID-19 and looking to reset their careers in order to reach for greater economic security," Hoyer (D-MD) said in a statement.

The pro-worker efforts follow similar calls from President Joe Biden for a minimum wage hike. Biden has vowed to be "the most pro-union president," and promoted an "earn while you learn" approach that would partner businesses and educational institutions to help create a pipeline to employment for those still obtaining degrees or training.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.