Viewpoint: We’re working for you this Labor Day – and every day
By Sen. Jack Walsh, Rep. Ed Osienski, Sen. Nicole Poore, Rep. Kim Williams
For many hard-working men and women across Delaware, this weekend will represent a well-deserved break – one last moment to enjoy the summer with family and friends before the school year begins.
But, as we mark the 127th Labor Day in our nation’s history, those on the front lines of America’s labor movement know we have more work to do than ever to chart a path of progress for Delaware’s working class.
Working families in our state have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the greatest public health crisis of our lifetimes, our lowest-paid workers were asked to put their own health at risk so some of our nation’s largest corporations could turn record profits selling toilet paper, cleaning products and other household goods back to us at a premium.
Only then, did corporate America finally recognize workers as “essential,” a phrase they discarded the moment it stopped being useful as a marketing gimmick. Once companies were able to reopen, they immediately labeled workers as lazy and ungrateful for making the impossible choice between a minimum wage job that won’t cover the cost of rent and groceries, and the health and safety of their families.
In the midst of that chaos, the American labor movement was dealt a serious blow by the sudden passing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a tireless warrior who never shied away from holding corporate America and our elected officials accountable to the working families of this nation. Today, his life’s work is the foundation for the possibilities that lie ahead.
Right now, Congress is on the cusp of passing a $1 trillion investment in our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure and a $3.5 trillion investment in the social safety net that has allowed generations of Americans to enjoy the fruits of our nation’s vast wealth – proposals advanced by Delaware’s own Joe Biden, the most pro-worker president this country has seen in decades.
Taken together, these efforts will create millions of construction jobs, rebuild America’s workforce, open new frontiers in renewable energy, lower healthcare costs and help working families cover the basic expenses far too many are struggling with now.
Here in Delaware, we are taking our own bold steps to lift up our neighbors and put our state’s economy back on track to benefit those who have sacrificed so much over the years.
As chairs and co-chairs of the House and Senate Labor Committees, we have pushed back against corporate interests, and with the support of every Democrat in the General Assembly, we raised Delaware’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, along with a $25 million tax break that will help small businesses stay afloat during our recovery from the pandemic.
We ended the immoral practice of allowing businesses to pay Delaware workers a sub-minimum wage based on their age and hire date. We also are phasing out the ability to pay a sub-minimum wage to people with disabilities.
With the help of our General Assembly colleagues, we made unprecedented investments in Delaware’s workforce by creating new pathways for adults and children to obtain a college education, gain new job skills and complete apprenticeship training programs debt-free.
Our trade unions have led the way by investing in and training their members to meet the needs of an ever-evolving world, which will pay dividends as we rebuild our infrastructure. Along those lines, the General Assembly also invested in workforce training by establishing the Elevate Delaware program, which will provide payments for tuition and auxiliary expenses for individuals to attend an approved non-credit certificate program.
We passed the largest infrastructure-improvement and jobs creation act in Delaware history, a $1.35 billion Bond Bill, while also making historic investments in clean drinking water, renewable energy and public education.
We’re putting workers ahead of corporate profits, and our workforce is beginning to take notice.
After years of declining membership, more and more young people are joining unions and embracing the American labor movement because they see how the wealthiest 1% have taken advantage of their parents and grandparents, while saddling them with low wages, expensive health care and astronomical debt.
On this Labor Day, the state of our unions is strong and getting stronger. With Delaware as a proving ground, together we can lead a renaissance of America’s middle class.
Ed Osienski chairs the House Labor Committee and is a 38-year retired member of the Sprinkler Fitters UA Local 669. Kim Williams is the vice chair of the House Labor Committee and previously worked for a union electrical contractor for 12 years. Jack Walsh chairs the Senate Labor Committee and a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 313 for 37 years. Nicole Poore is the vice chair of the Senate Labor Committee and serves as president of Jobs for Delaware graduates, a nonprofit that helps students connect with skills-based career opportunities.