Week Ending July 12, 2019

 House Prepares to Raise Minimum Wage and Repeal 40% Tax on Health Benefits

  • House Vote Expected on Minimum Wage Bill Next Week
  • House Sends 9/11 Victim Compensation Fix to Senate
  • House Passes Paid Family Medical Leave for Federal Employees
  • House Expected to Vote on Repeal of 40% Tax on Employee Health Benefits
  • House Moves to Reclassify Emergency Dispatchers

House Vote Expected on Minimum Wage Bill Next Week

It’s been 10 years since millions of American workers have seen a raise. The federal minimum wage has not increased from $7.25 an hour since 2009. This unjustifiable delay contributes to much of the wage stagnation in our country. What’s more, $7.25 is too little for workers to meet their families’ needs.

  • Increase Needed to Raise Wages and Purchasing PowerWage stagnation has not only contributed to income and wage inequality but has resulted in nearly 30% of American families struggling with poverty. It also hinders economic growth. Raising the minimum wage not only lifts the wages of low-wage workers but for all American workers. It’s a fundamental American value that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be rewarded with fair pay that reinforces the dignity of work and supports a middle-class life.
  • Key Provisions – The Raise the Wage Act (H.R.582) would raise the federal minimum wage to $8.55 this year and increase it over the next five years until it reaches $15 an hour in 2024. After 2024, the minimum wage would adjust each year to keep pace with growth in the typical worker’s wages. The bill would phase out the outdated subminimum wage for tipped workers, which has been frozen at $2.13 since 1991, and would sunset the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities.

What You Need to Know: Next week, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Raise the Wage Act, which would give millions of workers and their families raises. America needs a higher minimum wage for all workers to begin to reverse decades of pay inequality.

Call your representatives today at 1-855-712-8430.

It’s been 10 years since millions of America’s lowest-paid workers have gotten a raise. Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour will result in wage increases across the board and improve our economy. Call your representative today and urge them to support The Raise the Wage Act.

Houses Sends 9/11 Victim Compensation Fix to Senate

Late Friday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1327, the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, by a vote of 420-12. The legislation now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has vowed to hold a vote this summer. If enacted, this legislation will fix the imminent funding shortfall and allow victims to file claims through October 2089.

The bill’s name was changed earlier this week in memory of New York Police Department (NYPD) Detective Luis Alvarez, who died last month from 9/11-related illness; Fire Department of New York Firefighter Ray Pfeifer, who passed away in 2017; and NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who died in 2006. 

  • Past Claims Restored – H.R. 1327 would also require that anyone whose claim was reduced because of insufficient funding be paid the full amount. The bipartisan legislation, which has more than 300 cosponsors, now moves to a full House vote and is expected to pass in July.
  • Many Claims Still Pending – Since being reopened in 2011, the Victim Compensation Fund has received nearly 40,000 claims and made nearly 25,000 determinations for injured or killed responders and survivors or their families.

What You Need to Know: First responders and other public employees, including AFSCME members, came to Ground Zero and stayed for days, weeks and months to look for survivors and assist with cleanup and recovery. Many were volunteers who came from across the country. They inhaled a toxic cocktail of caustic chemicals, pulverized drywall and powdered cement. While working at the scene, their actions put them at risk of lifelong health consequences.

House Passes Paid Family Medical Leave for Federal Employees

A provision granting federal employees paid Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time off from their employment was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 2500), a large, broad package of military spending and programs.

  • Provides Up to 12 Weeks of Paid Leave – This provision would grant federal workers 12 weeks of annual paid leave to care for a newborn or newly placed adopted or foster child; to care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition, or because of the employee’s own serious health condition. This paid leave could also be used if  a spouse, child, or parent of the employee is on active duty or is notified of impending duty in the Armed Forces.
  • Extends FMLA for Federal Workers – The provision is sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) and parallels the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA) legislation (H.R. 1534). If enacted into law, this would be the first time that America’s federal employees are granted paid FMLA leave. America is one of the only countries in the world that fails to provide paid FMLA or even narrower paid parental leave to its government employees.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME strongly supports this FEPLA provision and has been working with allied federal labor unions, women’s organizations and others to ensure its enactment. AFSCME President Lee Saunders stated, “Federal employees work every single day to ensure that our communities are safe and healthy. For their commitment and tireless service to the nation, they deserve the ability to keep their families strong. … This bill will raise the bar for other employers.” Read Saunders’ full statement here. AFSCME will continue to work with the Senate and the eventual conference committee to protect these important provisions.

House Expected to Vote on Repealing The 40% Tax on Employee Health Benefits 

The House is expected to vote soon on the Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act (H.R. 748), which would repeal the 40% tax on worker and retiree health benefits. Repeal of this tax is a major priority for AFSCME because the tax shifts health care costs to workers and results in rising health care expenses.

  • Tax Already Weakening Health Care – The 40% tax on health benefits has already been increasing health care costs for several years and it continues to encourage employers and large profitable health insurance corporations to weaken worker/retiree health benefits. This tax tends to increase patient’s copays, coinsurance, deductibles and out-of-pocket medical expenses. America’s working families are already suffering a health care affordability crisis as their medical expenses have skyrocketed. This 40% tax is an extra problem for female-dominated occupations like nursing and child care, and for older workers and workers living in areas with high health costs.

What You Need to Know: The rules of the U.S. House of Representatives require a vote on H.R. 748 before the end of July. The bill is endorsed by 42 national labor unions, many consumer and patient organizations, groups that treat and cure diseases like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and prominent businesses and employer organizations. For more background, please read AFSCME's letter.

House Moves to Reclassify Emergency Dispatchers

The House of Representatives took a major step toward properly classifying 911 dispatchers as part of “protective service operations” by including H.R. 1629, the 911 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services (SAVES) Act, as an amendment to H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act. 911 dispatchers have important and difficult jobs. They are first responders trained to direct emergency response and administer lifesaving emergency medical instructions, but are considered clerical workers when determining benefits, salary and retirement.

Leading the effort is Rep. Norma Torres (D-California), a former 911 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department and AFSCME Local 3090, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pennsylvania).

What You Need to Know:  Reps. Torres, Fitzpatrick, and Donna Shalala (D-Florida) spoke Thursday on the House floor in support of the measure. The Senate-passed version of NDAA does not include the Torres bill and the provisions will be subject to House/Senate negotiation. AFSCME will continue to advocate for this important legislation.

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