But actual passage is rarely the point of introducing bills when you're in the minority. Instead, this maneuver simply aims to put a bow around a workers-rights agenda that now exists as a ready-to-go template for when the winds change in Congress — as well as a set of talking points for the next Democratic presidential nominee, and a to-do list for state legislatures and city councils that might be able to act on issues the current Republican majority won't touch.
So what's in this workers' wish list?
- The Raise the Wage Act, which would boost the minimum wage to $12 by 2020.
- The Paycheck Fairness Act, which requires employers to prove that gender pay disparities are justified by the requirements of the job, and strengthens penalties for retaliation against sharing salary information.
- The Healthy Families Act, which would require businesses with more than 15 employees to offer seven days of paid sick leave.
- The Schedules that Work Act, which would require employers to give workers advance notice of their schedules, and disincentivize changing them at the last minute.
Some of these have been introduced before, and all of them will likely be introduced again. There are others you might include as well, like Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) bill to crack down on misclassification of independent contractors. There are also existing pieces of legislation, like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, for which Democrats are trying to preserve funding in the face of Republican attacks. And there are potentially other measures waiting in the wings, like reforms to the National Labor Relations Act that would increase penalties for retaliating against union organizing activity.
But those are the main priorities that progressives are pushing around the country, as well as the basic framework that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has gotten behind, even if she hasn't gone so far as to endorse specific bills. Clinton is certainly a fan of Murray's brand of lawmaking. "Whatever she advocates for, I pay a lot of attention to," said Clinton, when asked what minimum wage level she'd back for the country.
And overall, the proposals reflect the philosophy that the best way to boost flagging workforce participation isn't to lighten the load on businesses, hoping that they'll reinvest the savings by hiring more workers. Rather, Murray's band of Democrats figure that more people will go to work if work pays better, and if they're not knocked off track by having to care for a sick child or schedule around community college classes.
"Truly robust and strong economic growth comes from the middle out, not the top down," Murray said in a floor speech Tuesday. "When workers lack security, when they aren’t treated fairly, they can’t invest in themselves and their children, spend money in their communities, or move their families into a middle class life."
That may not happen through Congress anytime soon, but this rhetoric is far from empty.