Biden pro-union panel’s recommendations: Boost organizing, hit union-busters
Vice President Kamala Harris, right, listens to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, during a meeting of the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, Oct. 7, 2021. Back to camera is Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The commission has come out with dozens of new recommendations to encourage union organization. | Jacquelyn Martin / AP

WASHINGTON—Not waiting for a gridlocked Congress to act on worker rights, the special Biden administration commission on increasing unionization issued 70 recommendations on how the administration could do so on its own.

Measures range from making organizing easier within government agencies to—in the general workforce—forcing more disclosure by union-busters, among other plans. The report also recommends using the “power of the purse,” in deciding which businesses get the $600 billion the feds dole out yearly in contracts, to promote unionizing and union-friendly firms.

And to make sure the report is not filed and forgotten, Biden kept the task force going and ordered it to report in six months on progress implementing its recommendations.

The task force said its recommendations are “a comprehensive approach to” promoting unionization via “the existing authority of the executive branch. Our goal is not just to facilitate worker power through executive action. It is to model practices that can be followed by state and local governments, private sector employers, and others.”

The report justifies backing unions by an economic argument, tying declining private-sector unionization to stagnant or declining wages and income for the U.S. working class.

“Recent organizing drives—like the national movement for a $15 minimum wage—illustrate the promise of the current moment for worker organizing and worker power. This is especially true when workers are able to deploy creative new forms of collective action, reach new communities who have not traditionally been represented in the labor movement, build common cause between the labor movement and other movements for economic and social justice, and urge governments to improve laws, policies, and practices,” the report explains.

But it’s also in line with some of Biden’s pro-worker actions since he entered the Oval Office, including outright and vocal support of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union’s organizing drive at the big Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., last year. He said unionizing it would be important for the entire nation.

Rampant Amazon labor law-breaking, including millions of dollars spent on union-busters, beat the RWDSU. It was so flagrant that the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office tossed out the election and ordered a rerun, now occurring.

Biden appointed the commission, headed by Vice President Kamala Harris and including Labor Secretary Marty Walsh—a Laborers Local 223 member—even before it became clear the 50-50 Senate, gridlocked by Republican right-wing filibusters, has little chance of passing the Protect the Right to

Organize (PRO) Act, the wide-ranging pro-worker labor law reform and unions’ #1 legislative priority. The report pushes the measure, anyway.

“It is important to acknowledge the task force recommendations do not and cannot take the place of the robust legislative change needed to fix our labor laws,” the report admits

“We need new laws today, just as we did in the 1930s. That is why President Biden and Vice President Harris strongly support passage of the PRO Act,” to “rebuild organizing and bargaining rights in the private sector after decades of erosion. Among other things, it would curb the anti-union, anti-worker excesses of the Taft-Hartley Act enacted in 1947.”

The two also “support the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act to expand public-sector worker collective bargaining rights for state and local government employees.” That’s a key AFSCME cause. Some states, mostly in the South, restrict bargaining by public workers or say unions may only ”meet and confer” with bosses. North Carolina has an outright ban.

The report also notes the administration wants lawmakers to pass measures extending labor law protection to big groups of workers now excluded from coverage due to past racism: Farmworkers, who are mostly Spanish-speaking, and domestic workers, who are mostly Black or immigrants.

But the filibuster-driven gridlock that has stalled the PRO Act also threatens to sideline a budget “reconciliation” bill—including pro-worker provisions—promoted by Biden and authored by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt. It includes high fines for labor law-breaking, makes more offenses subject to fines, and slams them on corporate execs, too.

Biden’s panel recommended one more way to use taxes to encourage unions. It told his Treasury Department to write a proposal for a tax deduction for organizing. Besides that, the panel’s 70 recommendations also include, but are not limited to:

  • “Positioning the federal government as a model actor. The federal government will promote broader labor-management engagement, as we know that such engagement helps to make the government more effective. The federal government will also provide greater access and information to unions seeking to represent and build membership among the federal workforce.” The report also says federal agencies “will eliminate barriers to union organizers entering federal property,” with the only limitations being security clearances where needed.
  • Ordering the departments of Labor, Defense, and Health and Human Services, plus the Small Business Administration, “to expand awareness of workers’ organizing rights and employers’ responsibilities when workers are trying to organize.” DOL “will become a resource center, providing materials on the advantages of union representation and collective bargaining.”
  • Telling DOL, the Defense Department, the Health and Human Services Department, and the Office of Management and Budget to “ensure federal contract dollars are not spent on anti-union campaigns.” If contractors try to break that mandate, the four agencies must blow the whistle and publicly disclose those companies’ actions.
  • Strengthen DOL enforcement against “persuaders,” also known as union-busters, and revise DOL reporting forms to force more information out of them. The report says companies hire union-busters in 75%-80% of all organizing drives.

The report also wants all of Biden’s administration to follow his lead and use the “bully pulpit” to advocate unionizing, including in speeches, appearances, interviews, and public service announcements. That’s what Biden did in the Bessemer campaign.

“The choice of forming a union is the worker’s choice, full stop…There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, and no anti-union propaganda,” he said then.

“This unprecedented report recognizes the critical role unions play in creating a fairer economy,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in a prepared response.

“Now, Congress must do its part. In order to fully empower workers, it is time to pass both the Protecting the Right to Organize Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which will ensure every worker who wants to join a union may freely do so.” The Communications Workers made those points, too, and others.

“The report also directs agencies to implement President Biden’s ‘Made in America’ executive order, update and strengthen protections for workers who join together to improve their working conditions, prioritize action to prevent worker misclassification, improve compliance with Service Contract Act wage and benefit protections for federal service contractors’ employees, and enhance enforcement of rules prohibiting federal contractors from using contract funds for union busting,” CWA said.

But CWA too stressed need for labor law reform. It said executive action alone cannot undo 40 years of corporate union-busting, abetted by Supreme Court and NLRB rulings.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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