Role of Labor Commissioner Argued in House Committee
The Government Organization Committee met Friday to discuss a number of bills, one of which was House Bill 2217, relating to the qualifications of the Commissioner of Labor. With a bill that’s been getting a lot of attention, it was relatively quiet in committee today, with only one vocalized vote against it progressing to the floor.
Earlier this week, this was not the case. On Tuesday, the Committee on Industry and Labor first saw the bill, and some delegates were very concerned.
Currently in state code, the Commissioner of Labor is described as a competent person, who is identified with the labor interests of the state. House Bill 2217 strikes that language to read; has knowledge and experience in employee issues and interests including employee-employer relations in the state.
This language change didn’t go over well with Delegate Mike Caputo from Marion County.
Caputo questioned John Reed, counsel for the Committee of Labor, asking him if the change would alter the qualifications of the Labor Commissioner and require him or her to have a background in Human Resources or HR work.
Reed said he didn't think so, and said the new language was still looking out for employees. But Caputo wasn’t convinced. He asked for the current Commissioner of Labor, John Junkins to speak to the committee.
Delegates on both sides questioned the commissioner about the qualifications this bill might change. They asked about employee-employer relations, and by the end, there was a distinct split on feelings about the word change.
“We’ve heard from the commissioner, and this agency was established in 1898, and its purpose was to protect the worker," said Delegate Caputo, "That’s what the gentleman said; protect the worker. Now take a look at the language in this amendment. I can see a CEO becoming labor commissioner for the state of West Virginia. Maybe that CEO worked at a factory for a year or two and got into management, worked his or her way through, became CEO, now all of a sudden, they’re going to come down and protect the interest of the worker? That’s insane. That’s just absolutely insane. Look we’ve got to have good labor management relationships at the workplace, but this agency is not about that, this agency is to look out for the worker.”
Delegate Daryl Cowles from Morgan County spoke to support the change saying it made more sense.
“The bill says the amendment would say, a competent person identified with employee issues of the state and has knowledge and experience in employee issues and interests, including employee, employer relations," Cowles said, "It would seem to me that employee, employer relations are very important indeed, very important to the interest of employees. It simply clarifies the mission and direction, the mandate of the office does not change with this bill; doesn’t gut anything. The mission and mandate do not change. The qualifications and experience of the appointed position are simply clarified.”
House Bill 2217 will report to the floor for its first reading on Monday, February 2nd.