SOTU: President Obama Can Double-Down on His Legacy for Workers in 2016


Statement of Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project:

“In his final year in office, President Obama has an opportunity to articulate a clear vision of the economy and society we should be building and to double-down on his legacy as a leader who improved the lives of regular working men and women while striving to turn the tide against decades of income inequality and economic insecurity facing America’s workers.

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“The president deserves enormous credit for steering the nation out of the depths of the Great Recession, winning invaluable legislation like the Affordable Care Act, and taking executive action on policies designed to return our nation to prosperity broadly shared across the economic and social spectrum and not just concentrated at the very top.

“Among the key policies the administration will be finalizing and rolling out in 2016 is the reform of federal overtime rules. For too long, America’s workers have been working more for less. By updating overtime rules to expand the ranks of workers eligible for overtime pay, the president is taking a huge step toward reversing decades of wage declines that have eroded economic security and hammered workers. This bold move will do much to strengthen and expand our nation’s middle class.

“Other crucial administrative actions we’re expecting this year include finalizing rules helping to ensure that federal contractors abide by our nation’s labor and occupational safety laws, and adopting strict limits on exposure to cancer-causing crystalline silica particles that threaten the health of construction workers at worksites throughout the country.

“Of course, crucial items on the broader worker agenda can only be realized by Congressional action. Although many states and cities are moving to raise their minimum wage rates, 21 states remain tied to the shamefully low federal rate of $7.25 per hour. A substantial federal minimum wage increase is long overdue.

“As Congress considers criminal justice reform, it’s crucial that lawmakers include provisions that will lift hiring barriers and ease the pathway to employment for people with records. Moreover, paid family leave should also be near the top of Congress’s priorities, as any lawmaker who cares about work-life balance should understand.

“Finally, it’s time for federal policy to stop punishing immigrant workers and their families, and time for Congress to finally adopt a comprehensive, fair, and humane immigration reform. On this front, the administration should lead by example and immediately stop the raids and deportations that are sowing renewed fear in immigrant communities around the country.”

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