Earlier this month, the Biden administration laid out a roadmap to advance the rights of American workers in its Report of the Working Group on Organizing and Empowering Workers. Led by Vice President Harris and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, and made up of representatives from 20 federal agencies, the task force recommended dozens of steps the federal government should take to promote labor organizing and labor rights. collective bargaining through executive action rather than legislation. The report outlines how the administration intends to deliver on its commitment to empower workers to reduce inequality and grow the middle class.
Why executive action? After all, legislation is the way to cement the gains of workers and their unions. And the promotion of collective bargaining is still a fundamental policy objective of the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law considered at the time as the Magna Carta of workers. But since then, anti-union amendments and court rulings have undermined the rights guaranteed by the NLRA, often making the law a hindrance, not a help, for workers trying to exercise their right to freedom of association. .
The Protection of the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, passed by the House and pending in the Senate, would significantly improve protections for workers trying to form unions. The task force report notes that support for unions is high, both among the general public (68%) and among black women (82%), black men (80%) and Hispanics (75%). But now and for the foreseeable future, 41 U.S. senators who could represent less than 20% of the U.S. population can block passage of the PRO Act, unless, as seems highly unlikely, 51 senators are willing to scrap the systematic obstruction.
Union-busting amendments and court rulings have undermined NLRA rights, often making the law a hindrance rather than a help for workers.
Faced with this reality, the only way for the Biden administration to amplify the bargaining power of workers is through executive orders, in the hope that they can then be codified into climate-proof legislation. systematic obstruction. This is how President Kennedy’s 1962 executive order granting federal employees the right to collective bargaining became law under President Carter in 1978.
The White House ordered the task force’s 20 executive agencies to dig into their current laws, rules, regulations and practices to identify changes that would help workers organize and bargain. Their exploration led to the development of recommendations for action covering the many roles that federal agencies play – as employers, as contractors who hire private sector suppliers, as grantmakers and as models of healthy labour-management relations.
For starters, the report calls on executive branch agencies to let union representatives meet with newly hired federal workers on the jobsite to explain what the union does, review the collective agreement, and invite them to join the union.
Elsewhere, the report notes the endemic problem of high turnover of federally-hired firefighters on public lands and urges a solution that hinges on a shift to a more permanent workforce that can organize and negotiate sustained, rather than seasonal workers. Why shouldn’t these essential workers get better wages and benefits through collective bargaining, like their highly organized counterparts at the municipal level nationwide?
Emphasizing communication and information, the report recommends that unions have better access to employees of private contractors providing services on federal properties such as military bases, national parks and federal buildings, paying particular attention to food service providers. Federal agencies can discourage anti-union campaigns by contractors when workers attempt to organize, including prohibiting them from billing the government for costs associated with anti-union lawyers and consultants, while agreeing to bear the costs of collective bargaining , cooperative initiatives and representative activities of shop stewards.
When contractor employees organize, a first-contract arbitration system would provide a safety net for collective bargaining if the employer and union fail to reach an agreement. The report also encourages project work agreements that provide union representation, no work stoppages, and high-quality performance on federally funded construction projects overseen by nearly all federal agencies.
The report is also intended for private sector employers in general, whether or not they are federal contractors. For example, he recommends that the Department of Labor reinvigorate reporting requirements relaxed under the Trump administration on the “persuasion” activities of union-busting lawyers and consultants like those hired by Amazon and Starbucks in recent campaigns. Shedding light on the money companies are spending to resist their workers’ unionizing efforts — money that could be used to improve wages and working conditions — can help workers overcome the consultants’ union-busting pressure tactics.
The report is not a model of “101 Ways to Build Unions,” but it comes close: In all, the new report identifies nearly 70 discrete actions federal agencies can take to build organizing power. and worker bargaining. And unlike many government reports that splash and drip, the task force requires a six-month follow-up from each federal agency, documenting exactly what it has done to implement the task force’s recommendations.
The union-busting industry has already launched a campaign to defame the report, calling it “unions’ wish list” and “a reward for union bosses”. But after decades of granting their own wishes, employers should no longer be allowed to prevent workers and their unions from turning these policy proposals into a lasting framework for workers’ rights.