Bernie Sanders Wants To Give Federal Workers The Right To Strike

The Vermont senator’s labor plan would also eliminate so-called right-to-work laws and limit CEO pay for federal contractors.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks Aug. 3 at a forum in Nevada hosted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a major union.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks Aug. 3 at a forum in Nevada hosted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a major union.
Ethan Miller via Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading candidate for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, rolled out a sweeping plan to expand the rights of workers and unions, including giving federal employees the right to strike, making it easier to form unions, eliminating so-called right-to-work laws and allowing unions in the same industry to jointly negotiate with employers.

Sanders, who is currently in the top tier of candidates for the party’s nomination, is competing for union endorsements with former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), and the plan could help woo organized labor in the critical early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Unions can provide crucial volunteers and cash to help put campaigns over the top.

The plan is based on the Workplace Democracy Act, legislation Sanders has introduced every year since he arrived in Congress in 1992.

“There are many reasons for the growing inequality in our economy, but one of the most significant reasons for the disappearing middle class is that the rights of workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined,” Sanders’ campaign wrote in rolling out the plan. The campaign said Sanders would aim to double union membership during his first four-year term in office.

Union membership has long been in decline in the United States, and only about 1 in 10 workers are members of a union today. Sanders and other progressives have long argued the decline of unions has been a leading driver of economic inequality ― unionized employees typically make more money and are more likely to have health coverage and strong retirement plans.

By executive order, Sanders would require federal contractors to take steps to make their workplaces more employee-friendly: They’d be barred from outsourcing jobs, paying their CEOs more than 150 times what their average worker makes and be required to pay workers at least $15 an hour. He’d also push to give federal employees the ability to strike for the first time.

Other steps would require a friendly Congress: Sanders would propose eliminating the section of the Taft-Hartley Act that allows states to adopt right-to-work laws that undermine unions. He’d also seek to make union organizing easier with majority sign-up, also known as “card check.” His plan would seek to bar corporations from forcing employees to attend anti-union meetings and would push for a law guaranteeing the ability of public sector workers to collectively bargain.

The last provision could prove particularly popular in Iowa. In 2017, the state’s Republican-controlled government passed a law that said public employees in the Hawkeye State could negotiate only over wages, not for health care or other benefits.

Another major union priority included in the plan and that would require congressional approval is sectoral bargaining, which allows unions across a single industry to bargain together and set universal standards for wages and benefits.

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