House worker panel to vote to raise federal minimum wage, union lawmaker says

REP. DONALD NORCROSS (D-NJ) Lauren Victoria Burke/AP photo

Washington (PAI)—The House committee that handles most worker issues will definitely vote in the next Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, a veteran union member, lawmaker and representative who sits on the committee says.

“As a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, we’ll have a very different attitude” towards workers and unions than the hostility of the panel’s GOP majority for the last eight years,” said Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ), who for years headed the South Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council.

That includes not just raising the minimum wage, he said, but also reinstating, through legislation, the Obama-era National Labor Relations Board’s effort to make joint employers like McDonald’s and its local franchise holders jointly responsible for obeying, or breaking, labor law. The new Trump-named GOP NLRB majority dumped that idea.

In an exclusive post-election interview with Press Associates Union News Service, the Camden, NJ, resident and electrical worker drew on his experience in both D.C. and the New Jersey legislature to make predictions about what the panel will do legislatively when it comes under Democratic control next year. Raising the federal minimum wage heads the list.

Besides reinstituting the pro-worker rules, Norcross expects the committee to preserve the Davis-Bacon Act and its guarantees of payment of locally prevailing wages to workers on federally funded construction. Killing Davis-Bacon – and cutting building trades workers’ pay – is a favorite GOP cause. Construction unions have rounded up bipartisan majorities to keep it.

“At some point, we’ll raise the minimum wage. It hasn’t been raised in 11 years,” Norcross says. He also expects the panel to pass a bill to reinstate the Obama Labor Department’s expansion of overtime pay eligibility, which the Trump DOL scotched.

Congressional Democrats, adopting at least part of Labor’s “$15 and a union” theme, have talked about raising the minimum to that level over a period of years. But any federal minimum wage hike, from the current $7.25 hourly, faces White House opposition.

“A federal minimum wage is a terrible idea, terrible idea,” Trump National Economic Council Chairman Lawrence Kudlow told a Washington Post-sponsored forum on issues facing small business, the week before the election. “On cutting a deal with the Democrats, my view is ‘no.’”

Kudlow declared a national minimum wage hike “will damage particularly small businesses, to force them to take a kind of payroll increase,” and his conversation indicates he opposes a federal minimum at any level. “Idaho is different than New York. Alabama is different than Nebraska That’s why the federal minimum wage doesn’t work for me.”

Kudlow admitted, however, that “I can’t speak for the president.”

In absence of congressional action, more than half the states raised their minimums. So have 42 cities. The latest, on Election Day via referendums, were Missouri and Arkansas.

“If we could give a trillion and a half dollars to the wealthy in a tax cut for the rich, we should be able to raise the minimum wage,” Norcross responded to Kudlow’s stance.

As an electrical worker, Norcross also expects the panel to seek ways to expand apprenticeship programs, one of his favorite causes. Trump also says that’s one of his goals.

Unions train most of the nation’s apprentices, and the U.S. is heading for a shortage of construction workers as current workers, most of them from the “Baby Boom” generation, keep retiring.

“Everybody thinks high school graduates these days need four-year college degrees,” or more to enter and move up in the working world, Norcross says. But in many cases, apprenticeships are equal or better –– a view he’ll push in committee sessions next year.

“In apprenticeships, you come out of the training program with an apprenticeship (certificate), good pay, a guaranteed job at the end” as a journeyman or journeywoman “and no college debt,” Norcross points out.

The panel’s agenda for 2019 has yet to be set. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) will take over the committee from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) who infamously told North Carolina media that she doubts unions are even necessary.

Though Scott hasn’t laid out his plans yet, or discussed them with Norcross or other members, the Virginian is the original sponsor of the Wage Act, crafted with the AFL-CIO to rewrite federal labor law and make it more worker-friendly.

The measure would legalize voluntary recognition – card-check – of unions with a majority of NLRB election authorization cards, dismantle many employer roadblocks to organizing and first contracts and increase fines for company labor-law breaking, among other ideas.

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