Marylanders and Americans as a whole should have specific expectations about employment: the general availability of work; wage and benefits adequate to support themselves and their families; safe and fair working conditions; hours that allow them to enjoy the lives they earn by their labor. Our national dialogue has compacted this down to just a $15 minimum wage and vague talk about unemployment, and we need more than that.
Our nation has gone too long without improving working conditions. It's just recently that we've begun to adjust the minimum wage regularly; and we've ignored many other problems which have cropped up. We must take several actions to improve economic fairness and provide adequate income, benefits, and personal time:
- Ensure a growth-based minimum wage based on a Federal Universal Dividend
- Strengthen the Employer Mandate in the ACA to ensure more employees receive affordable healthcare for themselves and their families
- Create baseline policies of compensatory time and earned sick leave at the Federal level
- Protect workers's right to organize
- Reduce full-time working hours as our productivity grows
Growth-Based Minimum Wage
Today's minimum wage policies focus on keeping up with cost-of-living increases, with no concern on raising the living conditions of the poor.
My Universal Dividend provides a basis of income and a measure from which to increase minimum wage. By increasing the minimum wage—and never lowering it—when a full-time job would otherwise pay less than twice the Dividend's annual per-person benefit, we will establish a basis of wage growth, rather than wage inflation.
Ultimately, I want the Dividend to represent 10% of our productivity. Along with a growth-based minimum wage:
- No unemployed individual will have less than 1/10 the per-capita income—a tenth of nearly $58,000 in 2016
- No couple will have less than 1/5 of the per-capita income—about $11,600 in 2016
- No full-time worker will have less than 30% of the per-capita income—about $17,400 in 2016
- No two-adult family with one full-time worker will have less than 40% of the per-capita income—about $23,200 in 2016
My initial target is at least a $7,500 Dividend, around 14%-15%. That gives a couple $15,000, a single worker $22,500, and a two-adult family with one full-time worker $30,000, of which the Dividend does not contribute to taxable income. Over time, we can move toward 10% at a rate which does not stagnate incomes.
Stronger Basic Benefits
Too many employees go without basic benefits in healthcare and time off. Employers exploit overtime-exempt employees to effectively lower wages by coercing them into longer working hours. We must give workers a reliable baseline of expectations about what employment will provide.
We need to strengthen the employer mandate in the ACA. Employees must have healthcare which matches their wages, providing themselves and their families with more coverage at lower premiums when wages are lower.
We also need basic national policies for time compensation, including comp time and earned sick leave.
Whereas hourly employees receive time-and-a-half of their total compensation—1.5 times the hourly rate of their wage plus the cost of their benefits—exempt employees must at least receive one hour of wage only for one hour of overtime work performed, or an hour of time off, to be paid out in cash at the end of the quarter or termination, or rolled over to the next quarter with the agreement of the employer and employee. State and local governments can make these rules more-stringent if desired.
Part-time employees must accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 1/40 of full-time hours worked. This provides 40 hours of sick leave per year—five days. Many part-time employees are struggling with lower incomes, and a sick day should not mean failing to eat or pay rent.
Stronger Protections for the Right to Organize
Title 29 of the US Code, Section 164(b), provides States and Territories the authority to override labor contracts requiring membership in a labor organization. This has created so-called "Right to Work" laws which allow employees to enjoy union protections where unions have negotiated contracts, while avoiding paying the union dues necessary for labor organizations to organize.
I will propose a rewrite of 29 USC §164(b) prohibiting State and Territory law from overriding such membership provisions, except in two specific cases. First, a worker refused membership in a labor organization for any reason not including non-payment of dues may be exempted from such a requirement by State or Territorial law. Second, State or Territorial law may exempt payment of labor organization dues above a portion of the paying employee's gross paycheck—so long as they define that portion as no less than 2.5%.
Under these provisions, employees must join the labor organization immediately upon admission, and may be required by labor contract to pay dues even if not admitted to the labor organization. Non-payment may result in amending reason for non-admission to include non-payment, at the discretion of the labor organization.
These provisions, if enacted by a State or Territory, ensure affordable union dues and avoid giving the labor unions unilateral hiring and termination authority, while also requiring every employee in a union shop to join the union as required by contract or, if refused membership, pay the union dues. This ensures a right to work without stripping organized labor of its power to negotiate for the worker.
Shorter Working Hours
We need a path to a 35, 32, or 30-hour work week while continuing our economic growth and our wage growth. Shorter work days in particular have been shown to reduce stress and sickness.
Incrementally shortening the working week by as much as half an hour each two years would represent less than half of our growth, and bring the United States to a 7-hour work day in 20 years. Reductions in unemployment, strengthening of emerging technologies, and other factors can increase our growth rate and allow a more-aggressive strategy, such as a reduction of half an hour each two years. As well, many industries may not experience as much lost productivity from shorter full-time hours, such as part-time service and seasonal employment sectors, and those office environments with sufficient employee downtime.
By working toward shortening work weeks, we can achieve a four-day work week or a six-hour work day within decades—possibly within one generation—without sacrificing an ever-growing standard-of-living.