Friday, January 8, 2016

New Year brings new laws to help workers

New Year's Day brought new pro-worker state and local laws into effect, as past worker activism at those levels provided an alternative to gridlock and anti-worker attitudes in the GOP-run Congress in Washington.

And it wasn't just minimum wage laws, either. Data compiled by the National Partnership for Women and Families show a wide range of family-friendly and pro-worker legislation either took effect on New Year's Day or will take effect this year, on top of a host of new laws that began in 2015.

National Partnership Executive Director Debra Ness called 2015 a year filled with tremendous victories for America’s working families:
We expect the progress to continue, but our nation still has a long way to go to ensure that hardworking people aren’t left struggling when illness strikes or new children arrive, or because we have failed to eradicate pay and pregnancy discrimination. 
Not counting a carload of family-friendly laws that took effect last year, or state minimum wage hikes on Jan. 1, other state and local family-friendly laws that will start in 2016 included:

  • Paid parental leave laws in Oregon (statewide), New York City (city workers), California (teachers), New Brunswick, N.J. (citywide), Seattle and King County public workers, all on Jan. 1, Tacoma (citywide, Feb. 1), Kansas City, Mo.(for city workers on May 1), Elizabeth, N.J. (March 2, citywide) and Montgomery County, Md. (countywide), on Oct. 1.
  • California's paid sick leave law had its one-year anniversary on Jan. 1. It was the second such statewide law, and Massachusetts became the third on July 1, 2015. Many laws outlawing pregnancy discrimination took effect in a wide range of states last year.
  • A strong equal pay law in California, the nation's most-populous state and home to one of every eight people in the U.S., took effect this Jan. 1.  Stronger statewide equal pay laws started in Oregon this Jan. 1 and will start in New York on Jan. 19. North Dakota’s stronger equal pay law started this past Aug. 1.
  • With the GOP-run Congress refusing to strengthen the 53-year-old federal Equal Pay Act, California's legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown (D), backed by state unions, closed that law's loopholes -- at least in the Golden State.

While not in NPWF's chart, the Fight for 15 movement produced legislative and bargaining successes for low-wage workers in New York State and New York City, Massachusetts, Minnesota and elsewhere.

The union-backed movement campaigns for $15 an hour as a living wage and the right to unionize without employer harassment, intimidation, spying, firing and labor law-breaking. Some 42 percent of all U.S. workers earn less than $15 hourly, data shows.

  • Press Associates, Inc., contributed to this report.