Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) has released a sweeping plan to revamp U.S. labor laws in order to double the number of unionized workers.
According to the 2020 candidate’s campaign website, the plan would abolish so-called “right to work” laws in states by revising provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act. Nearly 30 states have “right to work” laws on the books, in which labor unions’ ability to collectively bargain with employers for better wages and benefits is undermined, as those laws make the paying of union dues optional despite workers having the benefits of union representation.
In addition to ending “right to work” laws, Sanders is calling for the repeal of “at will” employment laws, in which workers can be fired at any time, for any reason. According to legal resources site UpCounsel, every state is technically an “at will” employment state, though 11 states have “Covenant of Good Faith” exemptions that require employers provide a good cause for terminating an employee.
Sanders also wants to streamline the unionization process for workers, to where a union would be officially recognized by the National Labor Relations Board if a majority of employees in a workplace signed union affiliation cards. A Sanders administration would also impose steep penalties on any company that doesn’t enter good-faith negotiations with unionized workers following the recognition of a union.
One major change Sanders is proposing is ensuring the protection of union benefits for employees of a unionized company when that company is acquired in a merger.
“In February, Wabtec completed a merger with General Electric Transportation in Pennsylvania. Instead of honoring the existing union contract with its workforce, Wabtec tried to impose substantial cuts to benefits employees have earned, while rewarding executives with over $120 million in bonuses,” Sanders’ website reads. “Under this plan, companies would no longer be able to abrogate union contracts through mergers.”
If elected president, Sanders is also pledging to cancel any federal contracts with companies that pay less than $15/hour, outsource jobs overseas, engage in union-busting activities, and/or have a CEO-to-worker pay gap that’s treater than 150. For example, Jeff Wilke — the head of Amazon’s logistics component under which most warehouse employees work — makes 684 times (nearly $20 million) what the average warehouse worker makes in a year (roughly $36,000).
The Sanders labor plan would also eliminate a 2014 law that Sanders says was passed “in the dead of night” that makes it legal for employers to cut pensions for the roughly 1.5 million American workers in multi-employer pension plans. The Vermont senator also pledged that, if elected, he would impose a moratorium on all future pension cuts, and reverse pension cuts that have been put in place. Sanders said he would fund pensions by “closing egregious loopholes that allow the wealthiest Americans in this country to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”
“If Congress could provide a multi-trillion bailout to Wall Street and foreign banks in 2008, we can and we must protect the pensions that were promised to millions of Americans,” Sanders’ website states.
And, as South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg has also proposed, Sanders would ban employers from classifying employees as “independent contractors” or “supervisors” as a means of denying them benefits otherwise guaranteed to full-time employees. And if his signature “Medicare for All” legislation is passed into law, Sanders would require all companies that currently provide health insurance plans to workers engage in negotiations with employees that would ensure money currently paid in health insurance premiums is returned to workers, either through increased wages, benefits, or both.
According to CNBC, these proposed changes are all done in the aim of doubling the number of unionized workers by January of 2025, when Sanders’ first term as president would end. Read the full plan here.
(Featured image: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.