Growing up in a union household on the north side of La Crosse, I know the importance of America's labor movement. The work and sacrifices of union members benefit all Americans with higher wages, better healthcare coverage, and safer working conditions.
After 10 long years, Americans earning the federal minimum wage received their first pay raise on July 24, 2007. Previously, these workers earned only $10,712 a year, which was $5,888 less than the poverty level for a family of three. By gradually raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, it will be easier for 13 million Americans to pay for groceries, utility bills, and health care.
Comprehensive Health Care Reform
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010, puts working families - not insurance companies - in control of their health care and provides affordable health care choices for everyone. Workers can keep their doctor and plan if they like it and won't have to give up their coverage in the unfortunate occurrence of job loss.
Path to the Middle Class
American workers are the most productive in the world and work longer hours than any other industrialized nation. Despite this hard work, American workers have faced stagnant wages in the face of rising health care, education, and energy costs.
To help more Americans reach the middle class, I am a strong supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, H.R. 1409. This bill would make it easier for workers to join a union and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. On average, union workers make 30 percent more than non-union workers and are much more likely to have health care benefits.
Although the wage gap between men and women has narrowed since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, according to the US Census Bureau in 2008, women still make only 77 -80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This wage disparity will cost women anywhere from $400,000 to $2 million in lost wages over a lifetime.
That is why I have consistently supported legislation that attempts to close this wage gap, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, H.R. 11. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama in January 2009, puts gender-based discrimination sanctions on equal footing with other forms of wage discrimination- such as race, disability, or age -- by allowing women to sue employers for compensatory and punitive damages. It also reverses a 2007 Supreme Court decision that put time restraints on when individuals can sue for discrimination.
In addition, the Paycheck Fairness Act, H.R. 12, passed by the House in January 2009 and currently being considered in the Senate, will close loopholes that have allowed employers to continue paying female employees less than men and will require that employers prove that pay disparities are not gender based.