Anti-union legislation—which has negative effects on worker wages, income, and health-care access—would be banned under a bill introduced last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The Workplace Democracy Act, proposed by Sanders in the U.S. Senate and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) in the U.S. House of Representatives, would end so-called right-to-work laws passed by state legislatures as a way to weaken labor unions and attract businesses to states where workers can’t demand livable wages. The pro-union bill comes as teachers unions across the United States stage walkouts to demand decent wages, benefits, and working conditions after a decade of economic austerity policy that has decimated investment in public education.
“Right-to-work” laws have become law in a majority of states, driving down wages, expanding the gender wage gap, and leading to more people working low-wage jobs. States with “right-to-work” laws—which allow workers to benefit from labor union gains without paying monthly dues—have higher poverty rates and lower average pay than states where collective bargaining is not under attack, according to the AFL-CIO. These laws have become commonplace even in states with strong labor union traditions, like Wisconsin and Illinois.
“Republicans like President Trump and [Wisconsin] Governor [Scott] Walker continue to crack down on unions and push a special interest, corporate-driven agenda that makes it harder for middle class families to get ahead,” Pocan said in a statement. “And while they stack the deck against the American worker, unions are fighting to expand economic opportunity and strengthen the middle class.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a bill co-sponsor, said in a statement that while “corporate interests are highly organized and fight like hell to make sure their interests are protected,” Congress should ensure union organizers and workers can more easily bargain for good wages and benefits. “The biggest economic challenge of our time is that people are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on,” DeLauro said.
Unionized workers are half as likely to be victims of minimum wage violations and earn 13.2 percent more than peers with similar education and qualifications in non-unionized jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Even workers who aren’t covered by a union have reaped the benefits of strong unions that haven’t been weakened by lawmakers hostile to labor. EPI found that women workers represented by unions make 9.2 percent more than women who aren’t covered by a union. Black and Hispanic workers, according to EPI data, “get a larger boost from unionization than their white counterparts.” Unionized Black construction workers in New York City, for example, make 36.1 percent more than the city’s non-unionized Black construction workers.
The pro-union congressional legislation comes as a U.S. Supreme Court case could have devastating effects on public sector labor unions across the United States by barring unions from collecting fees from non-union workers to represent those workers in collective bargaining agreements.
The Workplace Democracy Act would ease the process for creating labor unions by allowing the National Labor Relations Board to certify a new union if a majority of workers in the workplace vote in favor of joining a union. This would simplify the process for workers who want to create a labor union and avoid delays that let employers interfere.
Sanders and Pocan point out that 92 percent of private sector employers “force employees to attend closed-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda” if they express interest in creating a union. Three-quarters of those employers higher outside firms to run misinformation and intimidation campaigns designed to dissuade workers from forming or joining a labor union. Employer obstacles mean that more than half of unions that manage to overcome the interference don’t have a first workers’ contract a year after union elections, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
So-called right-to-work measures have the backing of far-right legislation mills like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which created copycat right-to-work legislation that has been passed in GOP-held legislatures. ALEC’s corporate board members have included people from some of the United States’ largest corporations, including ExxonMobil, SAP America, Koch Companies Public Sector, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.
The bill has 14 cosponsors in the House, along with a dozen cosponsors in the Senate.