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Today’s report from the Presidential Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris and co-chaired by Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, provides a roadmap for federal agencies to leverage the authority of the executive branch in order to build worker power. It delivers a clear message: “At its core, it is our administration’s belief that unions benefit all of us.”
The National Labor Relations Act states that it is the policy of the United States to encourage the practice of collective bargaining. As the report notes, “[t]he federal government has not always done its part to turn this policy into action.” The 70 recommendations in the Task Force report are a historic course correction and provide a model for state and local governments, private sector employers and others to follow.
Many of the recommendations relate to the use of the federal government’s purchasing and spending power to support workers who are organizing and pro-worker employers.
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.
Additional recommendations will increase opportunities for unions to receive grants for training and other services and ensure that the voices of union members are included on federal advisory committees.
The Task Force’s recommendations were guided by listening sessions that Vice President Harris and Secretary Walsh held with workers across the country, including as a June, 2021 roundtable where a CWA member highlighted the challenges workers in the U.S. face when they join together to form a union and advocate for change at their workplaces.
While these recommendations represent important progress, they alone cannot undo the decades of damage done by corporate America’s relentless, successful forty year campaign to prevent workers from building power through union membership and collective bargaining. That campaign was abetted by, as the report puts it, a United States government that “failed to fully use its authority to promote collective bargaining, and failed to update labor law in the face of economic and technological change, which incentivized employment practices that disfavored workers.”
In this moment, with the gap between the number of workers who want union representation and those that have it is at an all time high, with the continuing disruption of workers’ lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with corporate control of our political process threatening the foundations of our democracy, more absolutely must be done to restore workers’ dignity and freedom on the job. It is imperative that the Biden administration actively engage with members of the United States Senate to pass the PRO Act, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, and other legislation to fix our labor laws so that working people can speak up at work without fear, and receive the just treatment that the laws of this country are supposed to provide.