Interim labor committee convenes first meeting

WHEELING – The West Virginia Legislature’s new Labor and Worker Safety Issues Committee convened its first meeting Thursday in Wheeling to coincide with West Virginia’s 150th birthday.

The committee was formed earlier this year at the suggestion of state Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, who believed state lawmakers didn’t get enough time to consider labor-related legislation and that a summer interim committee was needed to discuss these measures.

Members met Thursday at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.

“During our regular legislative session, the Labor Committee historically has five hours to study bills, and it makes it difficult to get quality legislation through,” said Yost, chairman of the Senate Labor Committee. “We would like to see something move forward to protect the citizens of West Virginia, which is one of our duties and responsibilities as legislators. But at this time, it doesn’t work well.”

He said he spoke with Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Glen Dale, and former House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, about forming an interim committee to study labor issues on a monthly basis. While legislative leaders approved formation of the committee earlier this year, members weren’t immediately chosen. Members from the House weren’t selected until after the election of Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, on Tuesday.

Yost said he suspected some members weren’t present Thursday because they had yet to be informed of their roles on the committee.

These agenda topics to be addressed by the committee were announced during the meeting:

Worker safety – Committee members are to consider what legislative tools are available to encourage employer incentives to encourage worker safety and to provide safety programs for non-mining industries.

“Buy American” – Committee is to seek out what is needed to stimulate the production and purchase of American products.

Jail safety – Members are to address safety concerns within the state’s prison system and determine what can be done to create a safer environment.

Workplace Rehabilitation Programs – Committee will work on legislation with the goal of identifying drug addictions in the workplace and creating programs to assist employees and keep them productive and on the job.

Employee retention – Committee members are to consider ways to best retain experienced public workers.