Labor and Employment

Throughout his more than 40 years of public service, Senator Tom Harkin championed labor and employment rights for all citizens. As a senator, he served on the Committee on Appropriations as part of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and in 2010 became the chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

What’s Happening Now

The Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement works tirelessly every day to advance Sen. Harkin’s legacy within the realm of labor and employment. Research is underway to study the child care cliff effect, its impact on families and the role it plays in conjunction with other family assistance programs.

The Harkin Institute is in the process of establishing its Core Advisory Committee on Labor and Employment, which will provide direction and guidance on the types of research and events pursued in this area.

The Harkin Institute draws on Sen. Harkin’s background, highlights of which are shared below, to promote study and discussion of labor issues.

Ending Child Labor
In 2000, Sen. Harkin worked with the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor” so the U.S. could avoid trade with entities using child workers. He secured $1.3 billion for the DOL’s International Labor Affairs Bureau to support 278 projects to combat child labor in 94 countries. In 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol created a partnership aiming to end child labor in the cocoa industry.

Securing Labor Rights for the Disabled
Sixty percent of Americans with disabilities who want to work cannot find employment. Sen. Harkin reauthorized the Rehabilitation Act as part of the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, ensuring young people with disabilities access to fair employment.

Protecting Fair Pay and Collective Bargaining
Sen. Harkin supported raising the minimum wage since 1975 (when it was $1.60/hour) until his retirement. In 2014, he introduced the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10. Sen. Harkin also introduced the Healthy Families Act to guarantee workers seven days of paid sick leave a year and worked with the Obama administration to restore the right to overtime pay after deregulation during the Bush administration. Sen. Harkin opposed nine Senate floor amendments that would have weakened union rights and worked to confirm the first National Labor Relations Board after more than a decade of inactivity.

Ensuring Equal Pay
Sen. Harkin authored and championed the Fair Pay Act and Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, respectively, requiring employers to give equal pay for equal work and giving workers the right to contest pay discrimination.

Safeguarding Pensions and Social Security
In 2006, Sen. Harkin helped pass legislation that prevented abusive pension changes following retirement. He fought against privatization of Social Security programs three times in his career and sponsored numerous pieces of legislation that would bolster and protect Social Security.

Improving Worker Training
The Workforce Investment Act was supported by Sen. Harkin in 1998 and reauthorized in 2014 with the help of his leadership, updating worker investment and training programs to new standards. Sen. Harkin raised more than $100 million to help create job corps centers in every state.

Strengthening Safety Standards
As chair of the Committee on Appropriations, Sen. Harkin allocated funds to the DOL in order to provide proper occupational safety, oversight, and research into regulatory reform. Sen. Harkin, the son of a miner, championed the use of modern technology to make workplaces safer and to protect workers in times of emergency. He bolstered a system to enforce punishments against negligent employers to ensure workplaces remain safe.

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