One of the biggest problems Americans face is the increasing control that employers have over their jobs and their lives. Much of this can be attributed to the decades-long decline in union membership, driven in part by conservatives passing so-called “Right to Work” laws across the country. On Wednesday, Bernie Sanders, joined by 13 other Senate Democrats, unveiled a bill that aims to protect unions and workers’ rights.
The Workplace Democracy Act, which is co-sponsored by a who’s-who of names being thrown around as possible 2020 contenders—including Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, Kamala Harris, of California, and Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts—is being billed as a measure to make it easier for workers to organize. As The Washington Post reported:
The bill would allow employees to form a union by a majority sign-up process, rather than an election (which proponents say heightens the risk of employer meddling); require companies to negotiate with a new union within 10 days of receiving a request; mandate that workers in every state pay some dues to unions that represent them; and expand the law’s definition of “employer,” a hotly debated term as the country’s contractor workforce expands.
On average, a unionized worker makes 13.2% more than a non-union peer, according to data from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. In industries where organized labor is strong, unions help narrow gender and racial income disparities and also help raise wages across the entire sector. The bill also comes at a time when unions are once again under siege, with the Supreme Court preparing to rule on a case that could permanently cripple organized labor.
The bill would also help strengthen the rights of contract workers—including Uber and Lyft drivers—who are consistently deprived of benefits. As the Post writes: “Under Sanders’s plan, workers would be considered employees (and entitled to protections such as overtime pay) unless the services they perform are ‘outside the usual course of the employer’s business.’”
It’s clear that organized labor is one of the surest solutions to the country’s current record levels of inequality. But between 1945 to 2017, union membership in the country has dropped from 33.4% to 10.7%.
Of course, the bill has minimal chances of passing under the current administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. But the fact that 2020 Democratic frontrunners have all signed on to the legislation shows strong movement in the right direction.