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Why Kentucky Needs More Worker-Friendly Policies

The state has cut unemployment insurance benefits almost in half; removed prevailing wage protections and reduced guaranteed retirement benefits for public school teachers hired this year.

Aerial view of state capitol building, Frankfort, Ky.
(TNS) — As we celebrate Labor Day, it is worth taking a moment to remember why it has held a permanent place on the calendar for more than half of our country’s history.

While it is often seen as the unofficial end of summer, it is of course much more than that. First and foremost, it pays tribute to those men and women who, quite literally, made the United States the economic powerhouse it is today. Just as importantly, it also recognizes everything they did to establish the workplace policies and programs that have made a profound difference for us all.

States had held their own Labor Day for years, but it wasn’t until 1894 that Congress established it nationally, declaring that it should always be held on the first Monday of September.

For the average worker, life was not particularly easy on that first holiday. Many were as young as seven, and because of their smaller size, they often had the most dangerous and dirty jobs. No one could count on such things as child-labor laws, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, Social Security or safety requirements. Those were still decades away.

It is an understatement to say that we have come a long way since then. And yet there is still so much to do to make the workplace both safer and more employee friendly.

As a retired union leader, I have a deep respect for those who were there before me and fought the good fight. The gains we make today are only possible because we stand on the shoulders of these giants.

Regrettably, this progress has stalled in many ways; indeed, we have backtracked here in the commonwealth because many of those in power have sought to silence our workforce’s collective voice.

In the last six legislative sessions, this work has cut unemployment insurance benefits almost in half; forced those who are partially and permanently disabled on the job to eventually cover their own medical costs; removed prevailing wage protections that ensured public projects are built by local and highly trained tradespeople; and reduced guaranteed retirement benefits for public school teachers hired this year and beyond.

My colleagues in the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus and I have fought back against these harmful policies, and we have an agenda that, if enacted next year, would truly live up to the goals embodied in today’s holiday.

That includes such things as establishing paid parental leave, something other countries have long had, and earned sick leave for all permanent employees, a benefit that has become especially critical since the pandemic’s arrival.

We also believe more should be done to close the gender pay gap that has unfortunately moved little over the past dozen years, and we would improve retirement benefits for first responders while returning teacher retirement to what it was before last year’s changes. We also would permanently give all school employees the same raises every state worker receives, which this year is eight percent.

I have legislation that would put a greater focus on using Kentucky and American-made iron, steel and manufactured products for public projects, and we should also require every job created through state economic incentives to pay a living wage. With that in mind, it is past time to reinstate the prevailing wage and end the discrimination against unions that requires them to collective bargain for free for many workers.

There will be those who say that these and similar policies will somehow wreck what has become a strong economy. They’re wrong, though. Our current success was only made possible by those who are on the front lines, and they have earned the right to enjoy more fruits of their labor.

Our caucus’ bills make that victory possible, and with their enactment, we can once again build on what has been accomplished over the past 128 years while making sure future Labor Days are always better than those preceding them.

When workers win, we all win.

State Rep. Jeff Donohue, D- Fairdale, represents parts of Jefferson and Bullitt Counties.

©2022 Lexington Herald-Leader. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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