Where Kamala Harris Stands on Workers' Pay and Benefits

The Democrats' vice-presidential pick has staked out positions on workforce issues

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS August 12, 2020
Kamala Harris

On Aug. 11, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced his selection of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as his vice-presidential running mate. SHRM Online has gathered the following articles about positions Harris has taken on issues relating to pay and benefits for private-sector U.S. employees. While these are not positions endorsed by the Biden-Harris campaign, they reveal Harris' thinking and suggest the policies she would be likely to champion in a Democratic administration.

A Program to Eliminate the Gender Wage Gap

During her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Harris proposed a 1 percent profit fine on employers for every 1 percent wage differential between men and women performing comparable work. Companies with 100 or more employees would have to receive an "equal pay certification" every two years under a new federal program headed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The campaign expected the fines to total $180 billion in the first decade, which would fund a new employee paid family and medical leave benefit.
(Politico and New York Times)

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Pay Equity]

Medicare Advantage for All

Shortly before the July Democratic primary debates, Harris released a health care proposal that would allow a role for private insurers along the lines of the current Medicare Advantage program, but that would prohibit employer-sponsored health plans except for supplemental coverage. Her proposal would allow the transition to a so-called single-payer system over 10 years. Harris' position stopped short of the full-scale health care overhaul embodied by the Medicare for All legislation sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., which Harris had previously co-sponsored.
(Associated Press via U.S. News & World Report)

Six Months of Paid Leave

Harris proposed making six months of paid leave available to all workers, including part-time employees, self-employed workers and independent contractors. The plan would allow low- and middle-income workers making less than $75,000 a year to receive full wage replacement during their leave, with benefits phased down for higher-income households. Workers on leave would have protection from retaliation.

Harris proposed creating a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave to oversee the program, to be funded through a "combination of employer and employee payroll contributions and government expenditures paid for by tax increases on the top one percent and big corporations," according to her presidential campaign.

Retirement Security Initiatives

In Feb. 2019, Harris co-sponsored legislation to expand Social Security benefits and "strengthen the retirement program for generations to come," according to a statement from her Senate website.

The legislation, the Social Security Expansion Act, would increase benefits by about $1,342 a year for seniors now making less than $16,000 annually and increase cost-of-living adjustments by tying these to the spending patterns of seniors.

"In the richest nation in the world, it is a travesty that so many Americans are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living," Harris said.

In 2017, Harris sharply criticized a vote by the GOP-majority Senate to roll back Obama-era regulations that made it easier for states such as California to set up and administer state-run workplace retirement savings programs with automatic payroll deduction into individual retirement accounts, for employees of private-sector companies that don't offer their own 401(k) or similar plan. The regulatory safe harbor had pre-empted these state-run programs from some Employee Retirement Income Security Act obligations. Despite the rollback of those regulations, CalSavers and similar programs in other states have survived legal challenges.
(401k Specialist)

COVID-19 Relief

In May, Harris co-sponsored a bill for COVID-19 economic relief that would have paid $2,000 per adult ($4,000 for couples who file jointly) plus $2,000 per each dependent, up to three. The payments would have been retroactive to March 1, 2020. 

If passed, a family of five would have received a $40,000 check covering March, April, May, and June.
(Fast Company)



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