By TIM ROWDEN
Washington – Labor leaders joined Senate and House Democrats recently as they unveiled one of the critical tenets of their economic agenda, “A Better Deal” to strengthen “the collective voice and negotiating rights of workers.”
The Democrats’ proposals would strengthen the right to organize, outlaw so-called state “right-to-work” laws, open labor law breakers to triple damages for civil rights law-breaking, and strengthen the right to strike by, among other things, banning companies’ permanent replacement of strikers.
Although the eight-part labor plank has no realistic chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Congress, it reflects a conscious shift among Democrats to the party’s more progressive roots, something AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said is needed.
“To be perfectly honest, Democrats in the past in some ways have lost their connection with working people and our communities who have made up their base for generations,” Trumka said.
“Today’s set of proposals have to be more than just proposals,” Trumka said. “Improving the lives of working families has to be the fundamental basis for which Democrats fight.”
REJECTING ‘LESSER OF TWO EVILS’ POLITICS
Trumka joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten on Nov. 1 as they unveiled their proposals, which come as Republicans in Congress and special interests are looking to roll back worker protections in order to maximize corporate profits, and on the heels of the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention in St. Louis at which delegates adopted an ambitious Workers’ Bill of Rights.
Weingarten, who is a member of the Democratic National Committee, introduced a resolution at the convention rejecting “lesser of two evils politics.”
“To borrow an old union song, this is a ‘which side are you on’ moment,” Weingarten said. “Look at what some people and the GOP leadership in the Congress are doing. They’re trying to get tax giveaways to the rich who have already rigged the economy against working people all throughout the economy.”
REDOUBLING COMMITMENT TO WORKING PEOPLE
“Democrats are redoubling our commitment to working men and women with these proposals,” Schumer said.
“We’re offering the middle class, and those struggling to get there, a better deal by taking on companies that undermine unions and underpay their workers, and beginning to unwind a rigged system that undermines every worker’s freedom to negotiate with their employer.”
Trumka and Weingarten were also joined by American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Lee Saunders, National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen García.
WORKING FAMILIES TAKING IT ON THE CHIN
With working families taking it on the chin, with wages virtually flat and income inequality tearing at our national fabric, we need strong labor unions now more than ever, Saunders said.
“Unions don’t just fight for their own members, they lift wages, benefits and working conditions for everyone within a union and outside of a union.
“Right when unions are needed most, we’re under withering attacks from corporate interests and their political allies,” Saunders said.
“They want to rig the rules of the economy, taking away the freedom of working people to stand together and negotiate a fair return on their work. AFSCME and other unions representing public service workers are really in the crosshairs. Teachers and librarians, corrections officers, first responders and others have been slandered and have been scapegoated by politicians across the country.”
Saunders noted that the entire public sector could be “right-to-work” by next spring depending on the outcome of the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case currently before the U. S. Supreme Court.
AS UNIONS SUCCEED, FAMILIES, COMMUNITIES PROSPER
“Unions are the best and surest way for working Americans to get ahead in an economy that’s rigged in favor of the wealthy and the powerful elite,” Eskelsen García said. “As unions succeed, families and communities prosper.
“My union provided me with the clearest path to the middle class as a woman, a Latina, a daughter of an immigrant and a grand-daughter of a sharecropper. For educators, a union also gives us the freedom to advocate for the resources and tools that we know our students need to be successful.”
The ambitious labor component of Democrats’ ‘Better Deal’
Anticipating court and National Labor Relations Board decisions that could go against unions in the next four years, Democrats are campaigning for 2018 on a “Better Deal” platform, focusing on progressive economic reforms, and a set of proposals for strengthening unions and workers’ right to organize. Among them:
• A “federal law that provides public workers with the same rights and freedom to engage in collective bargaining as their private sector counterparts,” designed to prevent the piecemeal “right-to-work” efforts that have taken off in Republican-run states since 2011.
• A ban on state “right-to-work” laws altogether, as “they have been found to reduce union membership by up to 10 percent and have resulted in lower wages and decreased access to employer-provided health care and pensions.”
• Making it easier to strike with a “ban [on] the permanent replacement of striking workers.”
• Limiting employers’ ability to campaign against union drives. “When companies taint the election process by using captive audience meetings, the NLRB will set the corrupted election results aside and require the employer to bargain with the worker representative.”