By Rep. Ed Osienski, Rep. Kim Williams, Sen. Jack Walsh & Sen. Nicole Poore
Labor Day for many represents the end of summer, a time to reflect on summer, prepare to return to school, and have one final outdoor gathering with friends and family.
But the 128th Labor Day in our country’s history also stands as a moment to celebrate the labor movement, cherish and strive to protect the rights gained over time, and remember the sacrifices our workforce has made in recent years.
Our nation and Delaware’s workforce has evolved. For years, Delaware’s workforce was known for its “Four C’s”: cars, chickens, chemicals and credit cards. While the poultry industry remains strong, our two auto plants have long since shuttered, and the other two industries have seen ebbs and flows in the past several years.
Our workforce has changed, and we as leaders of the Labor Committees in the Delaware General Assembly have recognized the critical need to modernize our efforts to grow and diversify Delaware’s workforce. This is especially important as the federal government has made historic investments in our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure, and the state has passed record capital budgets in back-to-back years. These funds are helping rebuild our infrastructure and allowing us to make record investments in capital projects – such as building construction, clean drinking water and other upgrades – throughout Delaware.
We need a skilled workforce that can meet these growing demands, as well as fill the labor shortage that already exists, and we have taken action this session. We recognized that for many, the cost of the specialized training programs and other related expenses pose a huge barrier.
This session, we established the Elevate Delaware program, which provides funds for eligible individuals who aspire to enter training programs to help offset the cost of tuition and living expenses. The program provides students up to $10,000 for approved non-credit certificate programs and allows the Delaware Department of Labor to provide payments for other expenses.
It is our hope that Elevate Delaware will increase access to these critical training programs to prepare the next generation of trades workers.
But it’s not enough to just offer a blanket training program. We also must diversity our labor workforce so that Delaware’s workers look like Delaware. One way to accomplish this goal of increasing opportunities for residents of all backgrounds is by utilizing project Community Workforce Agreements that benefit minority communities. While this is an ongoing effort, we are focused on producing tangible results that will result in a more diverse collection of laborers throughout Delaware.
As part of our ongoing work to protect Delaware workers, we have passed laws this session guarding against wage theft by employers and modernizing the Workers’ Compensation Act so injured workers will experience fewer interruptions or delays in the payment of benefits.
As part of the effort to better prepare the workers of tomorrow, we continue to support Delaware Pathways’ workforce training programs, which help people learn new skills in a variety of careers, including agriculture, architecture, health, finance, IT and more. Providing options and opportunities like these for residents are how we succeed together as a state.
Legislatively, we also took several steps to help working Delawareans and invest in them, including passing a $15 minimum wage, providing meaningful raises for state workers, passing a paid family and medical leave law and funding it through the Joint Finance Committee, and establishing Delaware EARNS, a private sector retirement savings program that will help thousands of workers save for their future.
Our commitment to Delaware workers remains unshakeable, and on this Labor Day, we reaffirm that commitment to the thousands of laborers who form the backbone of our workforce, and we pledge to continue our efforts to make Delaware a proving ground for a renaissance of America’s middle class.
Rep. Ed Osienski chairs the House Labor Committee and is a retired member of the Sprinkler Fitters UA Local 669. Rep. Kim Williams is the vice chair of the House Labor Committee and previously worked for a union electrical contractor for 12 years. State Sen. Jack Walsh chairs the Senate Labor Committee and a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 313. State Sen. Nicole Poore is the vice chair of the Senate Labor Committee and serves as president of Jobs for Delaware graduates, a nonprofit that helps students connect with skills-based career opportunities.