Resolution #78A-21-01

A Path Forward to Build Worker Power

Current U.S. labor laws are broken and do not provide workers with the protections and rights they need in order to have a voice or power in the U.S. economy. Laws that were originally enacted with the intent to empower workers have been weakened beyond recognition by corporate executives and Wall Street profiteers. They, along with an army of lobbyists and lawyers, have engaged in an 85-year long relentless campaign to ensure that workers today have little to no rights or protections.

In 1935, as a result of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress passed into law the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA created the legal right for private sector workers to organize into unions, collectively bargain with their employers and the right to strike. The NLRA made it clear that “It is declared to be the policy of the United States to...encourage the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.”

The NLRA was vehemently opposed by the business community and corporate interests. The first major effort at weakening the NLRA came in 1947 when the Congress passed, over President Truman’s veto, the Taft-Hartley Act. This legislation, pushed by the Republican Party and unfortunately supported by a number of Congressional Democrats, allowed states to pass “Right to Work” laws that allowed workers to enjoy the benefits of a union and a contract without having to become a member, made solidarity strikes and secondary boycotts illegal, and included a “free speech clause” for employers that companies routinely utilize to hold intimidating mandatory anti-union meetings for employees.

Since enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act, 27 states have passed “Right to Work” freeloader laws. Years of right wing, pro-corporate idealogues appointed to the National Labor Relations Board, the body tasked with implementing and enforcing the NLRA, have successfully weakened worker power through regulatory and legal efforts. In addition, efforts by radicalized, pro-corporate, right wing activist federal judges have chipped away at the power afforded to workers under the NLRA through embracing legal theories like Constitutional free speech rights for corporations.

The state of legal protections for public sector workers also makes it hard for them to have a voice in the workplace. Currently, there is no federal law that protects the freedom of state and local public sector workers to join a union and collectively bargain. As public sector workers have organized and joined unions in states and localities across the country, corporate executives and anti-union ideologues have focused their resources on destroying public sector unions.

One of those strategies has been to pass state level public sector so-called “right-to-work” laws and laws that prevent public workers from using payroll deduction to pay union dues. The anti-union zealots have also pursued the destruction of public sector unions through the courts. Their efforts culminated in the outrageous, anti-worker Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, which in effect mandated a public service workers free rider law all across the country.

The success of these efforts to weaken worker power is made clear by the fact that today only 10.3% of all workers in the U.S. belong to a union, from a high of almost 35%. As a result, even though the amount of wealth that U.S. workers generate in the economy has steadily increased over the decades, U.S. workers today are taking home less in inflation adjusted wages than they were in the mid-1970s.

It is critical that this trend be reversed. We must remain focused on pushing federal lawmakers to enact the meaningful and transformative reforms our national labor laws need. In particular, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, would, among other things, impose meaningful financial penalties for labor law violations including by holding corporate executives personally liable, ban mandatory anti-union meetings, allow for secondary strikes of workers and restrict the right of employers to classify workers as independent contractors. In addition, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would allow all public sector workers in all U.S. states and territories to organize a union, bargain with their employer and use payroll deduction for union dues.

As long as the filibuster remains a tool of obstruction by anti-worker Republican Senators, the path forward for these transformative federal reforms of our labor laws, while not impossible, is narrow. Just as our corporate opponents have focused their efforts on numerous paths to weaken worker power, we must continue to build power through all avenues available to us.

Besides reforms to our federal labor laws, routes for enhancing worker power must start by ensuring that the NLRB actually supports rather than hinders worker unionization and facilitates collective bargaining. Other steps that can be taken include efforts at the state and local levels to allow and encourage worker unionization in the public and private sectors, presidential executive action, procurement decisions by governments at all levels and changes to the tax code.

President Joe Biden and his Administration have entered office as one of the most pro-union Administrations in history. For the first time in almost 40 years a union leader was chosen by President Biden to serve as Secretary of Labor. President Biden moved quickly to fire Trump’s NLRB General Counsel, who was a former corporate lawyer specializing in union busting, and appoint former CWA Special Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo as General Counsel of the NLRB. He appointed a pro-worker majority of former labor union attorneys to the NLRB. The White House has also created a White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment to develop recommendations for executive action that will increase the percent of unionized workers in the U.S. These are important steps forward in reversing the anti-worker policies of previous Administrations.

Just as the 85 year effort to undermine the NLRA and all worker power has required concerted efforts on multiple fronts, we too must focus on building worker power through as many avenues as possible while also focusing on passing transformative federal labor law reforms.

Resolved: CWA applauds the Presidential Administration of Joseph Biden for taking quick action in appointing a pro-worker NLRB and NLRB General Counsel, for the focus on strengthening the power of unions through executive action and supporting legislative efforts to reform our broken labor laws.

Resolved: CWA will continue to fight for transformative labor law reforms at the federal level such as the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) and Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. And we demand that the U.S. Senate act to eliminate the ability of anti-worker Senators to filibuster these critical pieces of legislation.

Resolved: CWA will support efforts to provide adequate federal funding for the NLRB to carry out its mission and the removal of the ban on the NLRB’s ability to conduct union representational elections by electronic ballot.

Resolved: CWA demands changes to our tax code to ensure it is aligned with our labor laws so that it encourages unionization and rewards collective bargaining by eliminating the ability of corporations to deduct from their taxes the costs associated with running anti-union campaigns, allowing union members to deduct the full amount of their annual union dues above the line on their federal income taxes and making it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors.

Resolved: CWA will fight at the state level to repeal so-called “Right-to-Work” laws, expand opportunities for public sector collective bargaining, ensure that all workers have the opportunity to stand up for their rights on the job, by demanding a significant increase in the number of Office of Safety and Health inspector hired to ensure companies adhere to appropriate health and safety protocols to protect all unionized and non-unionized workers and that workers who denounce violations of health and safety be afforded full whistleblower protections, and stand against any efforts in states to reverse workers’ rights and attacks on a union's ability to represent its members.

Resolved: CWA will continue to support a broad movement in support of building worker power beyond labor unions through the Coalition for Worker Power.

Resolved: CWA will hold accountable all elected lawmakers at all levels of government who do not support legislation that will make it easier for workers to organize and have a voice on the job during the upcoming 2021 and 2022 elections.