Bernie Sanders unveils sweeping workplace democracy plan
Sen. Bernie Sanders has released his “workplace democracy plan,” a sweeping set of proposals for strengthening and modernizing U.S. labor laws that would, if enacted, create a major shift in the power balance in American workplaces. Sanders debuted the plan Wednesday as he and other candidates appeared at the Iowa Federation of Labor's convention.
The reasons for the plan are at the core of Sanders’ candidacy. As its introduction notes, “Declining unionization has fueled rising inequality. Today, corporate profits are at an all-time high, while wages as a percentage of the economy are near an all-time low. The middle class is disappearing, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider”—and some key reasons for this aren’t a mystery. “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’ plan takes off from that point and has a lot of ways to fix it. Among them:
- Allow workers to organize unions through a majority sign-up process.
- Guarantee all workers, including domestic and farm workers, the right to unionize.
- Prevent companies with new unions from exploiting loopholes to delay a first contract—currently “more than half of workers who vote to form a union don’t have a union contract a year later and 37 percent still do not have a first contract two years after the election” because of employer foot-dragging and weak labor laws.
- Repeal Section 14(b) of the Taft Hartley Act, which allows states to pass so-called “right to work” laws, which allow workers to get out of paying union dues while getting the benefits of union representation.
- Crack down on misclassification of workers as independent contractors, denying them minimum wage and overtime protections, workers comp and unemployment benefits, and more; or as supervisors, exempting them from overtime.
- Keep companies from using franchises or contractors to evade responsibility for their workers. “If a company can decide who to hire and who to fire and how much to pay an employee at a franchise, that company will be considered a joint employer along with the owner of a particular franchise — and both employers must engage in collective bargaining over the terms and conditions of employment.”
- Give federal workers the right to strike and all public sector unions the right to negotiate.
- ”Issue an executive order to prevent companies from receiving federal contracts that outsource jobs overseas, pay workers less than $15 an hour without benefits, refuse to remain neutral in union organizing efforts, pay executives over 150 times more than average workers, hire workers to replace striking workers, or close businesses after workers vote to unionize.”
There’s more, too, including sectoral bargaining in which unions would negotiate a floor for an entire industry in a given area, working with wage boards set up by local governments, as well as a proposal for a careful transition from negotiated health plans to Medicare for All.
Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson notes that Sanders’ plan includes the labor law reform bill he proposed in the Senate in 2018, which was cosponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand. That mention of the Senate, of course, is a reminder of the hill that any pro-worker plan, let alone an ambitious one, has to climb. But some parts could be accomplished without Congress—plus, Democrats need to have big plans both to make the case for what a Democratic government would mean to voters and to be ready for moments of opportunity. Republicans don’t dream small, and neither should we.