Labor: Good, Bad ... and Ugly
Pro-worker bills filed – anti-worker bills with better prospects
In 2015, more than half of U.S. states will have a higher minimum wage than the federal standard of $7.25 per hour – but Texas won't be one of them. Reps. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, and Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, have filed bills that would raise Texas' minimum wage – Martinez Fischer is aiming for $10.10 per hour (HB 41 and 42 and HJR 26), while McClendon's HB 396 takes an incremental approach, at $8.75 per hour for 2016, then increasing to $10.10 in 2017, and, finally, matching the consumer price index each year following. The bill would also allow municipalities to institute higher local minimums. Although at least two other bills allowing for a higher municipal minimum have been filed (SB 68 and 123), given the Lege's prevailing ideology, we're unlikely to see an Austin minimum wage ordinance anytime soon.
Workers will likely cheer SB 151-155, a quintet of bills filed by Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, that would strengthen labor protections. SB 151, jointly filed with Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who complain to the Texas Workforce Commission. SB 152 defines what "bad faith" means in the context of penalties assessed by TWC, while SB 153 would expand the length of time an employee has to file an unpaid wage claim with TWC from 180 days to two years. SB 154 would mandate rest breaks for employees of government contractors (similar to Austin's ordinance). Finally, SB 155 would require contractors and subcontractors to carry workers' comp.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson's (D-Houston) HB 434 addresses the widespread problem of misclassification of construction employees as independent contractors, and would require the TWC to issue a report each year on its "efforts to ensure the proper classification." Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, would create a publicly available database of employers found by TWC to have committed wage theft (HB 94).
Rep. Chris Turner's (D-Arlington) HB 412, would bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by state contractors; Sen. Rodney Ellis' (D-Houston) SB 65, would make it easier for victims of wage discrimination to claim relief; and Rep. James White's (R-Tyler) HB 546 would prohibit state contracting for goods produced through forced labor.
Sen. Donna Campbell's (R-New Braunfels) "right to discriminate" constitutional amendment (SJR 10) – could prove disastrous for LGBTQ employees and customers; a nearly identical bill of hers died in committee in 2013. Undocumented immigrant workers face the specter of E-verify, a system developed by Homeland Security that allows employers to confirm their employees are eligible to work in the U.S. In December, outgoing Gov. Rick Perry decreed in an executive order that state agencies and contractors must use the program. Now, at least two bills would codify that order (HB 88 and 183). According to Workers Defense Project, Perry's order "effectively create[s] another barrier for the hardworking people ... and for the companies that rely on their labor."