TOPEKA – Today, members of the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses joined together to unveil a collaborative series of bills and priorities, all crafted specifically with the Kansas worker in mind.  The “Democrats for Working Kansans” agenda addresses a number of important issues facing the everyday people who contribute and invest in the State of Kansas, including: improved worker benefits, fair wages, promoting Kansas-made products, guaranteeing health and safety in the workplace, implementing new immigration reform, and expanding educational and training opportunities. 

 “Democrats in the House and Senate are committed to Kansas workers, families and business owners,” said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.  “These people are counting on us in 2009 and we have a responsibility to offer them the help they need.”

 “In the last year alone, 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs, the highest number of job losses our country has seen since the end of World War II.  During this difficult economic time, working Kansas families have born the brunt of this heavy burden,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.  “As large corporations – such as Boeing, Cessna, and the General Motors Assembly Plant – continue to scale back or go out of business, many more workers will be forced to cut back their hours, work for lower wages, or lose their jobs altogether.”

 “Kansas will recover from this recession, but if we don’t protect our hardworking Kansas families now, the long-term impact of this economic downturn will be much more far reaching and have much more damaging consequences to the future of our state,” Davis continued.  “That’s why we’ve joined here today – to stand up for the people of Kansas by enacting responsible, proactive policies.”

 Kansas Workers are the Backbone of the State

State retirees have not received a COLA since 1998.  This is inexcusable.  We have developed an innovative proposal that allows for the most deserving of state retirees to receive a COLA without having too great of an adverse effect on the state budget.

 The Legislature authorized a new pay plan for state employees last session so that we can begin the process of making state employee compensation competitive with the private sector.  We must continue implementation of the pay plan so that state agencies can attract and retain a high quality workforce.

 Keep our commitment to the State Employee Pay Plan

  • Protect KPERS Retiree Benefits

  • Create a COLA for State Retirees based on years of service

 “Thousands of Kansans have committed their working lives to the state,” said Hensley.  “Because of the fiscal constraints Kansas has been operating under for the past several years, however, state employee retirees have not received the financial recognition they deserve.  We must continue fighting for a more permanent COLA based on years of service, so that all Kansas retirees are adequately and fairly rewarded for their dedication to our state.”

Quality Education for Kansas Workers

The success of our school children is critical to the future of the Kansas economy.  We want to protect the significant investment that the Legislature has made in Kansas schools so that we can ensure that our children will be prepared to compete in the 21st century economy.

 Apprenticeship programs are critical to improving our state’s workforce.  We believe the contractors doing business with the State should utilize registered apprenticeship programs so that Kansas workers have access to valuable training programs that help both the employee and the employer.

 With many workers being displaced due to the current economic hardships, technical education colleges have a vital role to play.  We must ensure that technical education colleges are funded in a manner proportionate to the needs of industry in our state.

 Protect our investment in Kansas schools.

  • Provide Kansas workers with access to registered apprenticeship programs.

  • Better integrate technical education into our long-term solution for economic recovery.

“We’ve made a tremendous investment in our schoolchildren over the last few years and we’re starting to reap the benefits of that decision,” said Representative Ann Mah, D-Topeka.  “Data has consistently proven that our investment in education pays off in the form of stronger students and, in the long run, better employees for 21st century jobs.  Abandoning our commitment now would be terribly punitive to our economic future.”

 Kansas Workers Rights: Workplace Health and Safety

Many employers are circumventing the law by misclassifying employers to avoid state and federal requirements.  These employers must be held accountable.

 We support criminal penalties for employers who misclassify employees so that we can put a stop to this practice.

 A number of Kansas workers have been killed on the job and their families still cannot receive just compensation because of the current caps on wrongful death damages.  A mere $250,000 does not adequately compensate a widow or children who have lost a loved one on the job.  We support a new cap of $500,000.

 Kansas has some of the lowest workers compensation benefits in the nation.  We support increasing workers compensation benefits so that Kansans who are injured on the job can be fairly compensated for their injuries.  Businesses have received a number of benefits in the workers compensation area in the last decade; it is high time for the Legislature to act now on behalf of Kansas workers.

 Because of a recent decision made by the Kansas Supreme Court, injured workers have had their benefits reduced if they receive a whole body injury designation.  This undid decades of Kansas law and unfairly impacts thousands of Kansas workers.  We support reinstating the previous system so that Kansas workers receive the compensation they deserve for their injuries.

  • Support criminal penalties for employers who misclassify employees.

  • Double the wrongful death cap from $250,000 to $500,000.

  • Reform workers compensation to better protect Kansas’ workforce.

  • Provide fair and just compensation to workers injured on the job.

“Instead of protecting workers, workers compensation protects insurance companies that delay and deny needed medical care and enjoy outrageous profits at the expense of Kansas businesses and employees.  The Legislature must include substantive reform overhauling workers compensation in its agenda in order to protect the engine of the economy: Kansas’ workforce,” said Representative Luis Ruiz, D-Kansas City.

Kansas Jobs for Kansas Workers

We badly need immigration reform at the federal level, but there is a role to be played by the states in this area.  Too many employers knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.  We believe that employers who continue this practice ought to be penalized.  Additionally, we believe that governmental units ought to undertake a pilot program using the e-verify system when new employees are screened and hired.

  • Protect responsible Kansas employers by creating strong incentives to comply with state hiring laws.

  • Require state and local governments, and contractors to use e-verify.

“We are facing a budget year when every penny counts and every job matters.  When irresponsible employers hire undocumented workers as a means of avoiding decent wages, benefits and taxes, we have got to hold them accountable,” said Senator Tom Holland, D-Lawrence.

 Fair Wages for Kansans and Kansas Products First

Kansas has the lowest minimum wage in the nation.  This is an embarrassment.  We support raising the Kansas minimum wage to the federal level so that the many thousands of Kansans who earn this wage can be fairly compensated for the work they perform.

 In 1987, the Kansas Legislature repealed the prevailing wage law in this state.  This was a significant blow to Kansas workers.  The time has come for us to reinstate the Kansas prevailing wage.

 The State of Kansas should do what it can to support products that are made right here in Kansas.  We are fortunate to have automobiles produced in Kansas City, Kansas by General Motors.  The State ought to give preference to purchasing automobiles produced at the Fairfax GM plant when new purchases are made.

  • Increase Kansas’ minimum wage to equal federal law.

  • Reinstate the Kansas prevailing wage.

  • Give preference to Kansas-made products.

“Working families drive the economy.  If a hardworking employee can’t make enough money to pay the bills, it will only push us deeper into recession.  Furthermore, higher costs of living paired with stagnant wages only contribute to an increased poverty level.  If we are going to help families move out of poverty, we must guarantee a wage that dignifies work,” said Representative Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City.

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