Today’s News & Commentary — August 21, 2019
Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) just released a sweeping new plan to strengthen American labor unions—and meet Sanders’ goal of doubling union membership during his first term in office. Sanders’ labor plan calls to end “at-will” employment, the legal rule that American workers can be fired by employers for any reason, end state right-to-work legislation, extend the right to strike to federal workers, and allow secondary boycotts. In addition to Sanders’ legislative proposals, he calls for an executive order that would require all federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage with benefits or pay executives more than 150 times what they pay average workers. The plan also pushes towards a sectoral bargaining system, in which wage boards would set minimum standards across industries—not just individual employers—much like a New York wage board raised minimum pay to $15 for Fast Food workers in 2015. Sanders’ plan earned praise from progressive labor leaders like Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, who demanded that “every 2020 candidate release a detailed plan” like Bernie’s to promote unionization. You can read the full plan here.
Speaking of SEIU: yesterday, in a Milwaukee speech, President Mary Kay Henry unveiled “Unions for All,” an ambitious, pro-union agenda that the country’s second-largest union. SEIU is making Unions for All a line in the sand—it will only endorse candidates who pledge their support. The platform has four core proposals: sectoral bargaining; making federal labor law a floor, rather than a ceiling; requiring any business with a federal contract to pay at least $15 an hour and allow workers to unionize; and keeping labor at the center of any major economic proposals, similar to the Green New Deal’s focus on union jobs and a just transition. SEIU lawyers Nicole Berner and Dora Chen wrote about SEIU’s Unions for All proposal right here at OnLabor; check their explainer out here.
For the last century, legal doctrine has stressed that contracts are “a realm of freedom and choice,” where we’re all bound by our voluntary, mutually beneficial negotiated terms. But in real life, workers and consumers don’t starting a job, paying for health insurance, or buying a phone don’t negotiate contract terms with huge corporation. Instead, we have no choice but to acquiesce to contract terms like forced arbitration and coercive non-competes, no matter how harsh they are. At Current Affairs, Sandeep Vaheesan, legal director of the Open Markets Institute, argues that lawyers should break the free contract model and that Congress should ban abusive contract terms nationwide.
When employees at digital media company Vox started to unionize, German Lopez argued that his workplace was relatively well off and didn’t need a union. A year and a half later, Lopez was on his union’s bargaining committee. At Vox, he wrote about how he went from skeptical of a unions till he joined one—and what he learned about why workers everywhere need a union.