H.R. 2202: Worker Empowerment Act

July 11, 2009

Eric Brooks
eric@digitalexplorations.org

On May 8, 2007 Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington State submitted HR 2202 before the House of Representatives, the Worker Empowerment Act. The bill was referred to committee.

The goal of this Act is to recognize, anticipating the current crisis, the social responsibility to support workers who become unemployed due to the various stresses in the economy.

The main point of the bill was to extend Social Security to create a federally funded reemployment adjustment assistance program, managed by the states.

To be eligible, the employee had to be employed continuously for the two-year period prior to separation by the last employer, have left involuntarily and without cause, or have left voluntarily “under circumstances which would, by virtue of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, satisfy the relevant State law requirements relating to the type of separation from employment that is required in order to be eligible for unemployment compensation”.

Born in 1936, Congressman McDermott is a working class child of the Great Depression. His official biography mentions:

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) is serving his eleventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 7th Congressional District in Washington State, which includes Seattle and parts of several neighboring communities. As a senior Member of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. McDermott is chairman of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee and also serves on the Subcommittee on Trade.

Jim McDermott was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 28, 1936. He was the first member of his family to attend college and Jim went on to finish medical school.

The bill has certain limitations that weaken it. Requiring that the worker have worked continuously for one employer for the two years prior to being laid off penalizes people who anticipate problems in their employment and find new employment, only to lose that job. Further, due to employment rules there is more and more use of short term employees, often with terms of less than 18 months. These people would be excluded for no fault of their own.

Stipulating that the worker must not have been terminated for cause encourages the use of “human behavior” rules to ensure that regular human behavior can result in termination at the employer’s discretion. For instance, web browsing at work is something that is a broad behavior and which can become a basis for termination.

Extending Social Security to become a true social net to meet the needs of working families buffeted by the cycles of capitalist over production that result in massive unemployment such as we are experiencing today points out an important direction in implementing Jobs or Income Now.

Eric Brooks can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ebrooks.

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