There is no denying the United States has an enormous problem with wealth inequality. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is shameful how little income mobility the average American worker actually has. Part of the reason for this, is the roadblocks Republicans have put up to keep hardworking people from unionizing, because of their desire to protect corporations’ bottom lines. Fortunately for us, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders is putting workers’ rights before CEO bonuses and introduced a bill on Tuesday that would make is easier for workers to band together and demand better pay — and treatment — from their employers.
In March 2015, Scott Walker “proudly” made Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state, dealing a devastating blow to workers in the state. Right-to-work laws are the right-wing’s favorite way to eliminate the power of unions in their states. They sell it to their constituents as a “protection” for employees against unions, but what the laws really do is leave them vulnerable to the corporations they work for. In Florida, for instance, a worker can be arbitrarily fired and negotiating higher wages is almost unheard of. Sanders’ bill would no longer allow state preemption of federal labor laws and, most importantly, it would make right-to-work laws a thing of the past.
If passed, the Workplace Democracy Act, sponsored by Sanders and Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, would rectify current laws that deny American laborers their fundamental right to elect people to represent their best interests and negotiate the “terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection” on their behalf.
“If we are serious about reducing income and wealth inequality and rebuilding the middle class, we have got to substantially increase the number of union jobs in this country,” Sanders said.
To increase the union jobs in the country, Sanders wants to make it easier to form a union. According to Al Jazeera America, union leaders blame the recent strikes — especially those in the fast food industry — and union membership declines, on workers’ inability to form unions because of the difficult administration processes.
“The fact that in the last three years workers have been striking and not holding elections shows that workers know labor law as it is doesn’t work,” said Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of the labor coalition Change to Win. “The current regime doesn’t work; we need alternatives to the NLRB election system.”
This bill would make it much easier for workers to unionize and assert their rights, therefore reducing the need to strike.
- Eliminate the two-stage balloting process for union election
- Guarantees the right to first contract
- Strengthens and expands the enforcement authority of the National Labor Relations Board
- Repeals the prohibitions against strikes, boycotts and hot cargo agreements
- Prohibits state preemption of federal labor laws
- Secures equal treatment for all employees
- Ensures equal protection under the law for state and local public sector employees
- Provides workers the right to act as guarantors of their financial future
- Extends NLRA coverage to workers for U.S. owned companies that operate in Free Trade Agreement countries
The elimination of the two-ballot system would be a huge step towards making unionizing easier. Under current law, workers have to complete a difficult, two-ballot process in order to form a union. First, thirty percent of the employees have to sign union authorization cards in order to trigger a ballot. If they succeed, a ballot then goes out and the majority of the workers must vote in favor of organizing in order for a union to be certified. Sanders’ bill will eliminate the second step and a union would be certified if the majority signs the authorization cards.
Finally, one of the most important provisions of the Workplace Democracy Act is the one that protects international employees of American companies. Right now, many multinational companies outsource to countries like China, where labor laws are almost nonexistent, because it is much cheaper to operate in those countries. Sanders’ bill would allow employees of U.S. companies in other countries to file labor complaints against the company if the workers are treated unfairly. This would make it much harder to exploit vulnerable people in other countries.
If passed, this bill would be a groundbreaking achievement and would protect our workers not just in the U.S. but across the world from predatory corporations who only care about how many zeros are at the end of their bank statements. Unfortunately, this is exactly why the Republican-controlled Houses will never allow it to become a law. They care about workers’ rights about as much as they care about women’s rights. This is just another example of why it is so important that we show up in force next November and vote for Democratic candidates who will protect our rights, not the “rights” of the one percent. If we ever want to see this bill, or any bill like it, be signed into law and see the income gap close, we have to vote the GOP out.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.