‘Unions benefit all of us’: new Biden plan encourages federal workers to unionize

Taskforce sets recommendations ‘to promote my policy of support for worker power, worker organizing and collective bargaining’

The Biden administration set out 70 recommendations to encourage union membership in the US on Monday, including making it easier for many federal employees to join unions and eliminating barriers for union organizers to talk with workers on federal property.

The report, compiled by the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, reiterates Biden’s robust backing of unions. “At its core,” the report says, “it is our administration’s belief that unions benefit all of us.”

It adds: “Researchers have found that today’s union households earn up to 20% more than non-union households, with an even greater union advantage for workers with less formal education and workers of color.”

The report comes amid a surge in interest in unions in the US and follows a wave of high-profile industrial actions last year.

The taskforce, which includes 13 members of Biden’s cabinet and is chaired by Vice-President Kamala Harris, calls for stepping up enforcement to ensure that money going to federal contractors – whether manufacturers, food-processing companies or other contractors – is not spent on anti-union campaigns.

The taskforce calls for requiring disclosure of any instances when federal contractors use anti-union consultants or lawyers to persuade employees working on a federal contract not to unionize.

While corporations typically prohibit union organizers from setting foot on company property – as Amazon has done recently in Alabama – the taskforce recommends removing many barriers that block union organizers from being able to talk with employees on federal property about the benefits of unionizing. This applies not just to federal employees, but also to employees of private contractors on federal property, such as a grocery store on a military base or in a national park.

Biden said the taskforce’s charge was to identify executive branch policies, practices and programs that could be used “to promote my administration’s policy of support for worker power, worker organizing, and collective bargaining”.

The taskforce said the range of policies and programs “that can be leveraged is significant”.

Its recommendations include making the federal government a model employer in terms of shaping jobs, ensuring that federal employees know their labor rights, and improving labor-management communications. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer, with more than 2.1 million non-postal employees. Of those, 1.2 million are represented by unions, but only 33% of those workers pay union dues – that small percentage limits the power of federal employee unions.

Noting that screeners for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are largely excluded from having the collective bargaining rights available to other non-military federal employees, the taskforce instructed the Department of Homeland Security to issue expanded bargaining rights for TSA’s screening workforce.

The report is likely to strengthen the notion that Biden is the most pro-union president since Franklin Roosevelt – and perhaps the most pro-union president in US history. That might help Biden when he seeks to persuade and mobilize union members to vote for Democrats this November. At the same time, the report’s pro-union tone and substance might result in more opposition from business.

In its first sentence, the report says: “The Biden-Harris administration believes that increasing worker organizing and empowerment is critical to growing the middle class, building an economy that puts workers first, and strengthening our democracy.” The report catalogues several executive orders and other pro-union steps by the president and his administration.

It reads: “Unions have fought for and helped win many aspects of our work lives many of us take for granted today, like the 40-hour work week and the weekend, as well as landmark programs like Medicare.”

The report adds that research has shown that increased economic inequality, growing pay gaps for women and workers of color, and the declining voice of working-class Americans in the nation’s politics “are all caused, in part, by the declining percentage of workers represented by unions”.

The taskforce calls on the Department of Labor – whose secretary, Martin Walsh, is the taskforce’s vice-chair – to become a resource center that provides materials on the advantages of union representation and collective bargaining.


Steven Greenhouse

The GuardianTramp

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