Legislative Update - September 4th, 2020 - Labor Day
While most of us think of the upcoming Labor Day weekend as the unofficial end to summer, the holiday’s meaning is much more significant than that. For 126 years now, it has also been the time we pay tribute to those who have, quite literally, made our country into what is today. This day also recognizes the many hard-fought gains we have seen in the workplace – and the challenges we still need to tackle.
From an historical perspective, we have definitely come a long way since the first nationwide Labor Day celebration in 1894. Back then, for example, children barely old enough for school were often working six days a week, sometimes taking on the most dangerous jobs because of their small size. Here in Kentucky, it wasn’t until 1902 that the state said those under the age of 14 couldn’t be hired full-time, and even that was not guaranteed if parents gave their consent to the employer. Four years later, the legislature capped child labor at 60 hours a week. The year 1938 proved to be a watershed year for children and older workers alike. It created nationwide standards for children who worked, and the legislation also set a federal minimum wage of 25 cents an hour, which is less than $5 today when adjusted for inflation.
Labor Day has an especially strong meaning this year as we continue to battle against the worst pandemic in a century. Now more than ever, we appreciate the hard work that so many Americans have done to keep our nation running as safely as possible. We’ll be relying on that spirit even more in the months ahead as our economy continues to open up.
Kentucky is fortunate to have a diverse workforce that can handle the task ahead. Few states have a higher percentage of employees in manufacturing, which is a key reason why we are leaders in such areas as the auto and aerospace industries and export growth.
In recent years, we have also consistently been among the top one or two states when measuring the number of large-scale economic projects announced on a per-person basis.
In an effort to make Kentucky’s workplaces even better, many of my House colleagues and I are putting our support behind several proposals that would benefit the commonwealth in many ways. That includes repealing punitive changes enacted in 2018 that make it harder for those partially but permanently injured on the job to get medical benefits after 15 years. That same law also all but stopped coal miners with black lung from qualifying for workers comp benefits, even as we have seen a renewed spike in these cases.
Other proposed legislation would do three things: Make sure that jobs created by state tax incentives provide reasonable wages and benefits; implement fairer leave policies for new parents; and reduce gender and minority wage gaps. These are just some of the issues we will be focusing on when the General Assembly returns to the Capitol in January.
For now, it’s worth spending some time this Labor Day weekend to reflect on the contributions of the American worker and the ways our workplace has become a fairer and safer place. I know that if those behind the first celebration of this holiday could see us today, they would be proud that we have both honored their legacy and built upon it.
That’s what makes this holiday so special, because it looks back with respect and looks forward with expectation of even better days. It is with that in mind that I hope you and your family have a wonderful time this upcoming three-day weekend.
Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.