This week, Idahoans celebrated Labor Day. It’s a moment to spend time with family and friends. It’s also a time to reflect on the strides labor movements have made and the work we still have to do. Idaho Democrats believe that if you work hard and do your part, you should be able to get ahead. Unfortunately, Idaho is not delivering on this promise and the Republican supermajority continues to push it further out of reach.
In 2015, McCall residents organized to address the abysmal minimum wage that didn’t support the workers who powered the local economy. The question of raising the minimum wage was put on the ballot and failed by a slim margin. It might have passed in future years or inspired other communities to take similar action. But Republican legislators, spurred on by corporate lobbyists, acted swiftly to ensure that no community, by any vote margin, could ever increase the minimum wage, no matter how sorely it is needed. Every Democrat, joined by only one Republican, voted against the new law that took away this power from locally elected officials.
Workers’ skills are the hard-earned assets they ought to be able to take with them to start a new job or their own enterprise. Sadly, powerful corporate interests saw an opportunity to limit their workers’ options by claiming ownership over their experience. Republican lawmakers catered to lobbyists by passing a law making it easier for companies to enforce noncompete agreements. This threat coerced employees to stay at a corporation even if wages didn’t meet their needs or they simply wanted a change. While the law was ultimately repealed, it nevertheless sent a chilling message about how far the Idaho GOP will go to put corporations’ desires over workers’ freedoms.
Laws to weaken whistle-blower protections and strip public school teachers of their bargaining rights are additional Republican-led efforts to undermine workers’ rights in recent years. And Idaho lacks many common protections such as heat safety standards for outdoor workers, accommodations for pregnant workers, and the right to discuss compensation with coworkers.
Labor movements and unions have grown the middle class. At different times in our history, Idaho workers joined together to secure fair compensation in Coeur d’Alene mines, Lewiston lumber mills, and Pocatello labor halls. Much of modern working life — weekends, health insurance, paid leave, pensions, Social Security and Medicare — were made possible by organized labor. But many of these benefits are still unattainable for too many Idahoans.
While Idaho’s GOP lawmakers continue to double down on the false promises of trickle-down economics that don’t deliver for working families, Idaho Democrats will fight for policies that make hard work translate into the financial stability workers deserve.
Idaho Democratic Party Chair