Issue Position: Fighting for Virginia's Working Families
Our Plan for Working Families
Hard-working Virginians deserve a raise, deserve more time with their families, and deserve the best start for their children. Families do best when we prioritize growth from the ground up and the middle out, replacing the failed promises of benefits trickling down from the top. In a time when a worker's job security is increasingly threatened by the forces of automation and monopolization, the next governor must advance a bold agenda for working families that will push wages higher.
In laying out this plan, I am especially mindful of the impacts that an inadequate working families safety net has on traditionally marginalized groups. As we have outlined elsewhere, for communities of color, a barebones support system for working families ensures that the racial wealth gap won't be closed and that communities in Virginia will continue to be stratified along racial and economic lines. If we restrict the access and affordability of women's health care or fail to provide women with equal pay, we are eroding their basic economic sovereignty and the economic security of their families.
My plan to lift working families prioritizes economic security for all Virginians, guarantees benefits that allow workers to spend time with their families, and expands access to education so Virginians in every corner of the Commonwealth have a fair shot at success.
Basic Economic Security for Virginia Workers
Fighting For a Living Wage: If you work full time, you deserve a living wage. Too many Virginians can't support their families on a wage of $14,000 a year. No matter where I travel in the state, the message is clear: no family in Virginia can build a secure future for their families or themselves when their wages are this low.
These stories animate my entire candidacy. They are what propelled me to be the first candidate in this race to call for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Virginia's current minimum wage of $7.25 hasn't been raised since 2009 lagging even West Virginia, which has an $8.75 an hour minimum wage. Scaling the minimum wage up to $15 an hour is not just about helping workers, it also saves taxpayers money and drives local economic growth. With higher wages, fewer workers rely on the social safety net to make ends meet. Those tax savings could be used to reward companies already here in Virginia who increase wages or go to education and workforce development for Virginians of all ages.
This pro-growth pledge to fight for a living wage extends to overtime pay as well. Unfortunately, President Obama's new rules extending overtime pay protections to more middle-class workers were reversed by the Trump administration, making it harder for Virginians to keep the pay they've earned. As governor, I will fully enforce labor laws through Virginia's Department of Labor and Industry, which right now, simply refers people to the U.S Department of Labor. Virginians should be able to rely on their own state officials, not be referred to a federal bureaucracy ultimately run by President Trump's anti-worker allies.
Our workers deserve not just the security of a living wage, but the dignity that comes with it. That's a fight I will never back down from.
Ending the Gender Pay Gap: In Virginia, women earn roughly 80 percent of what men earn, in terms of median earnings. This gap in income and wealth is even more pronounced among African-American and Latino women in Virginia. Virginia continues to drag its feet as more and more evidence piles up that the wages of working women are systematically held down, both by cultural and economic forces. Women make up the majority of minimum and sub-minimum wage workers in Virginia, and bear the brunt of the impact from weak workplace protections, cuts to health care and childcare funding, unaffordable reproductive care, and skyrocketing education costs. To reduce the gender pay gap, I will use my powers as governor to mandate equal pay whenever possible and will push for legislation that brings transparency to workplace pay and salary levels, so women can see when the deck is stacked against them. I will push for legislation to give women greater legal tools to demand an equal wage.
Improving Labor Protections for Workers: I will push for much greater oversight, investigation, and tougher penalties for employers who engage in wage theft. In 2012, Republicans in the General Assembly completely defunded Virginia's investigative unit that looks into wage theft. Thanks to advocates, the funding was later restored, but as governor, I will be a brick wall against unscrupulous employers and their allies in the General Assembly.
Too often, workers in Virginia don't get the protections they need to earn their rightful pay and maintain consistent hours. Wage theft, the denial of benefits, and reduced bargaining powers are all side effects of a long, sustained attack on workers' rights in Virginia. Workers do better when they have strong unions, and the decline in union membership is a major reason why wages have effectively flat-lined since the 1970s. That's why I oppose so-called "right to work" laws that kneecap unions from helping workers bargain for higher wages.
To protect workers, I will crack down on employers who illegally misclassify employees as independent contractors, making them ineligible for benefits like overtime pay, for unemployment insurance, for worker's compensation, or even for the minimum wage. I will also push to reinstate the use of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) that give both workers and employers a legally-binding blueprint for how large-scale projects will be built, what protections will be guaranteed, and what hours will be required.
Helping Virginia's Workers Put Their Families First
Ensuring Family Leave and Guaranteed Medical Leave: The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn't guarantee its workers paid family or medical leave. As governor, I will push to guarantee workers up to eight weeks of leave at two-thirds of their pay so they can care for a new child or an ill family member. This would also provide guaranteed medical leave so that workers can take the time they need to get healthy and back on the job. Best of all, this would give Virginians the flexibility to raise families and take care of themselves in times of hardship without worrying about losing their jobs. I will also ensure that small businesses with workers on paid leave are specifically rewarded and supported through measures like temporary hiring subsidies so these small businesses can keep growing their local economies.
Helping Virginians Afford Childcare: In Virginia, far too many working families have to allocate massive chunks of their income to afford childcare, sometimes spending more on childcare than on housing. Center-based childcare usually averages more than $1000 a month, as two-thirds of Virginia children under age 6 have both parents in the workforce. As governor, I will push for tax credits to offset the high costs of childcare and provide direct relief to working families.
Pathways to the Workforce for Every Virginia Family
Making Early Childhood Development the Building Block of Virginia Education: Education remains the clearest pathway to opportunity and dignity. That's why I will fight to fully fund universal pre-K so that no Virginia student is left behind before he or she enters the classroom. Universal Pre-K is also one of the best steps we can take to increase workforce participation: it allows parents to go back to work with the confidence that their children are on the right developmental track.
Just as important, universal pre-K will be a huge step forward in reducing inequality in Virginia schools. Studies have shown lack of access to early childhood education disproportionately hurts communities of color and that students who start school behind their classmates are likely to fall further behind over the course of their educations. Simply by implementing high-quality pre-K, we will eliminate as much as 20 percent of the achievement gap.
Providing Two Years of Community College, Vocational Training, and Apprenticeships for Free (and Good for Life): Being a worker in Virginia today means having to compete with every other worker on the planet. And with a new wave of automation coming to the workforce, Virginia's workers need even greater skills and training to provide for their families.
Offering two years of free community college, vocational training, or funded apprenticeships is a no-brainer. And to make sure every worker can get the training he or she needs at any point in their career, these benefits should be available for life.
These programs provide multiple, flexible pathways into the middle class. And because they're free, workers with high potential but few assets can still commit to taking on the responsibilities of advanced training. Best of all, these programs largely pay for themselves: a better trained workforce earns higher wages, which in turn leads to more taxable income.
I will work with Virginia's companies, colleges, and vocational schools to ensure these training programs are meeting real-world employer demands of their workers. Getting these pipelines right and increasing program completion rates will be fundamental to making sure these programs lead to higher wages.
Reducing the Burden of Student Debt: The average four-year student in Virginia leaves school owing nearly $30,000. This debt holds them back from purchasing their first homes, from starting their own families, and from starting their own businesses. As a congressman, I co-authored a tax credit for students attending four-year universities and community colleges, because I know student debt holds back inclusive economic growth.
As governor, I will push to re-establish the Virginia Educational Loan Authority, which will give students the option of receiving guaranteed loans and inject competition with high interest private lenders. This loan authority will also be able to refinance existing student loans, so that like a home refinancing, students can reduce their monthly debt payments. Finally, I will work to promote and expand programs that encourage Virginians who never completed their degrees to invest again in their human capital. For example, I will expand the Virginia Transfer Grant, which provides financial assistance to former community college students who return to school and complete a four year degree, to Virginians who never completed their degrees but want to re-enroll in school or a training program.
We also need to look for ways to reduce the student debt load for Virginians hoping to put their skills to work in underserved communities. To motivate a new generation of mental health workers, substance abuse counselors, veterans, and others to live and work in the communities that need them most, I will push for Virginia to offer partial loan forgiveness for a commitment of two years working and making these communities better places.
How We Will Measure Success for Virginia's Working Families: In today's economy, it's not enough to aim for growth;it must be inclusive growth. Right now, we largely measure progress on economic issues by two aging measures: GDP and unemployment. While these are good things for an economy to strive toward, they miss out on so much that Virginians want for their families. I will put forward a new "Virginia Quality of Life Index" that incorporates real measures of things Virginians care about, commute times, health outcomes, gender equality, degrees and certifications earned in demand fields, and more so Virginia's working families can hold us accountable to the promises we make to grow the economy inclusively.