Thursday, December 5, 2013
Rep. Stanley Short Jr.
This Labor Day, let's remember that we have a responsibility to ensure that Maine workers are treated fairly. Our state thrives when workers have the opportunity to earn a good living for themselves and their families.
Some of the best work of the first regular session of the Legislature came out of the Joint Select Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future, a bipartisan committee that focused on jumpstarting our economy and growing our middle class.
Far too many Mainers are unemployed, underemployed or lacking the skills needed for better paying jobs and the jobs of the future.
The Legislature passed omnibus legislation that addresses the specific factors contributing to the skills gap. Part of the legislation creates a "training pipeline" by bringing four additional degree programs for high-demand, high-wage jobs to rural Maine and reducing the backlog of waiting lists at Maine's community colleges for 14 high-demand programs.
Other parts help workers get the training they need by creating a seamless credit transfer system between the Maine Community College System and the University of Maine System and by providing financial aid for students who started college but left before getting their degree.
Last session, we Democrats defeated anti-union legislation that aimed to undermine collective bargaining. This legislation would have weakened the power of workers and their unions. It was a direct attack on the middle class in our state.
Democrats also fought hard to move the minimum wage closer to a truly living wage. We recognize that even those working 40 hours per week cannot afford to provide for their families at the current level of $7.50, or $15,600 a year.
The Legislature passed a bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $8 per hour beginning July 1, and would have raised it another $0.50 in 2015 and again in 2016. After 2016, the minimum wage would have been adjusted automatically for inflation on July 1 of each year. The bill followed the common-sense principle that if the price of staples such as bread, milk and gas go up, wages should increase as well.
Ultimately, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. I was disappointed that the governor chose to veto a bill that would have helped boost our economy while putting more money into the pockets of Maine's working class.
We need to advance policies that strengthen our working families. Middle-class families are the backbone of our economy. Our state's success depends on their success.
Rep. Stanley Short Jr., D-Pittsfield, is serving his first term in the Maine House of Representatives. He represents Clinton, Detroit and Pittsfield.