After being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, long-time advocate of the American worker, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, will be released from the hospital today. Kennedy was hospitalized Saturday morning after suffering a seizure at his family's compound at Hyannisport, Massachusetts. Following the news of his sudden illness, politicians from both parties spoke highly of the Democratic Senator, including both democratic presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. As Washington regulars reflect on Kennedy's contributions during his more than 40 years in public service, U.S. employers may be interested in the initiatives that would have the greatest impact on the American workplace.
Kennedy's Current Workforce Initiatives
Senator Kennedy is a major employee advocate and many of his initiatives are focused on this goal. This passage from his senatorial website demonstrates Kennedy's perspective:
The minimum wage is at an all-time low, the Family and Medical Leave Act is under attack, and workers are being stripped of their overtime pay, unemployment insurance, and pensions. The United States must recommit itself to supporting working families to ensure a strong and prosperous America for future generations.
Specifically, Kennedy seeks to achieve these objectives through various proposals. Here are five of Kennedy's proposals that would have the greatest impact on employers.
1. Union Rights
Senator Kennedy is a long-time union supporter. On the agenda just this month was the Public Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, which focuses on collective bargaining rights for public safety employees. Currently, 26 states permit public employees to form bargaining unions. The Cooperation Act would require the other 24 states to do the same.
2. Minimum Wage
Kennedy is one of the Senate's most vocal advocates for an increased federal minimum wage. This subject is a sensitive one for most U.S. employers. If the national minimum wage did increase, it would likely trigger at least some changes in the way employers look at immigration reform, which is also on the Senator's list of proposals.
3. Immigration Reform: Illegal Immigrants
Another one of Senator Kennedy's major initiatives is targeting immigration. Last year, immigration-reform legislation was passed but, according to Kennedy, fell short of achieving the goals it was intended to address. Kennedy has continued to advocate for revisions to the legislation, focusing on these main points:
- Tougher Border Enforcement. These changes would include border-enforcement patrols double the current size. It would also target illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. Employers who hire illegal workers would be subject to increased enforcement, as well.
- Earned Legalization. This initiative would target illegal aliens already in the U.S., giving them opportunities to earn citizenship. This effort is based on the argument that massive deportation would be seriously disruptive to communities and business in the States.
4. Immigration Reform: The Future for Foreign Workers
Temporary-Worker Program. As many employers are fully aware, getting specialty workers from other countries is a daunting task. This third prong of Senator Kennedy's proposal is forward looking. In the future,temporary employees from abroad would be given easier access to come to the U.S. for temporary work with the goal of working towards permanent employment and citizenship.
5. IDEA Reform
Another initiative on Kennedy's agenda has been increased funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Senator's position is that, although the goals and purposes of the IDEA are on-track, the lack of federal funding has prevented it from being fully utilized by the states.
Information about these and other initiatives can be found on the Senator's official website.