Bernie Sanders Launches Pro-Union Bill as Battle for Organized Labor Intensifies
The battle for labor movement support among Democratic presidential candidates broke into the open on Tuesday with the launch of legislation by Senator Bernie Sanders protecting employees who seek to form unions.
Though the Workplace Democracy Act stands little chance of passing the current Republican-controlled Congress, it marks a new phase in the Sanders campaign’s effort to paint itself as the natural champion of organized labor.
The proposals to prevent workers from being victimized for attempting to form unions come amid growing union endorsements for Hillary Clinton and ahead of a White House “Worker Voice” summit on Wednesday which is expected to be attended by Vice-President Joe Biden.
Sanders rejected criticism that his support among unions was lower than he would have hoped, saying that members were backing him even if their leaders were influenced by personal ties to Clinton.
“We have a number of locals, we have the national nurses union and we are going to have a number of more unions on our side – no doubt about it,” the Vermont senator told reporters after a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
“What sometimes happens is that Secretary Clinton has had a number of contacts with union leaders over the years, but I have zero doubt that we have massive rank-and-file support among trade unionists.”
But Sanders also insisted his support for the legislation, which would strengthen the role of the National Labor Relations Board in certifying unions, long predated his interest in running for president.
“This is legislation that I have supported since literally the first year that I was in the Congress,” he said. “It’s not a question of winning union support. What we are fighting for is the survival of the American middle class.”
Some of the activists present at the legislation’s launch, which was co-sponsored by congressman Mark Pocan, said they had suffered victimization for trying to form unions.
“I was trying to organize nurses at Huntington Memorial hospital in Pasadena and going over some of the issues for patients caused by hospital administration’s budget cuts,” nurse Allysha Almada, told the Guardian. “I was quoted in an article … and within a week I was taken off the floor in front of all my co-workers, taken to HR and put on suspension.”
“It was clear retaliation for me being an outspoken supporter of the National Nurses United,” she added. “It definitely has a huge impact on our organization efforts and nurses are very afraid.”