LABOR DAY WEEKEND
Making it real
When I was growing up, my father used to tell us how as as a little boy he was carried on his father’s shoulders to a rally to hear Eugene V. Debs. My grandfather was a worker on the Rock Island Railroad and Debbs was a founder of the American Railway Union. Later, my father was a union organizer for the the then CIO in Detroit. We were always told in my house that “If you cross a picket line, don’t bother to come home.” Saying someone was a scab was the worst kind of insult. My brother continued the family tradition, working for United Farmworkers founder Ceasar Chavez from 1968-1971.
During those years, organized labor was an indisputably important force in American politics and society. No one doubted that; it was simply a part of how America worked. But as Reaganomics and trick-down economics began to transform our economy in the 1980’s, the demonization and suppression of organized labor was one of the primary weapons of assault on America’s middle class.
I remember riding in a car with a friend in the 1980’s, when we saw a picket line in front of the store where we were headed.
“Oh,” I said. “We can’t go in. There’s a picket line.”
”No, that’s okay,” said my friend. “You can just go around it.”
I stared at her in disbelief, realizing that she honestly didn’t know what she had just said. It wasn’t simply that she hadn’t been raised in a home like mine. It was that the United States had changed. She had not grown up in an America where the rights of workers were considered sacrosanct. She simply had no understanding, really, of why labor was important in any larger sense.
Yet, now, there is a revitalization of labor. And not a moment too soon. Just as organized labor was established in the late 1880’s as a response to the first Gilded Age lasting from 1880 to 1990, today we are living in a new Gilded Age and it has spurred an awakening of the sleeping giant of organized labor. Forces of unfettered capital must be met by an equally powerful counterforce, or capitalism becomes a weapon used to exploit and suppress working people. You don’t have to be a Marxist (I am not) to realize that that’s simply the way it is.
The first Labor Day was celebrated in the 1880’s, and on every Labor Day we should revisit its meaning. The rights of working people can never be taken for the granted; in fact, they must be vigorously and continuously defended against overreach by those who would abuse those rights. Today, large corporations constitute a matrix of corporate power whose business model is not, as promised by the minions of trickle-down, job creation but rather job elimination wherever possible. The last fifty years have seen such a massive transfer of wealth ($50 Trillion) away from the bottom ninety per cent of Americans, that the majority of Americans work paycheck to paycheck and with constant economic stress.
The repudiation of this madness, the ending of this aberrational chapter of American history, cannot happen without the advent of New Labor. With celebrity union icons like Sara Nelson and Christian Smalls, baristas unionizing Starbucks and the WGA-SAG strike and more - and most importantly, the fact that over two thirds of Americans now say they support unions - we’re in the middle of a labor renaissance that’s one of the few bright lights on our current horizon.
The core of my Labor platform is as follows…
My administration will:
Support Labor Rights For All Workers
Hold Corporate Executives accountable for labor law violations. CEOs should be personally liable for unpaid wages, and criminally liable for interference with workers’ efforts to organize. Employers who engage in wage theft, misclassifying workers, and bad faith stalling during bargaining, aka “surface bargaining”, will be heavily penalized.
Strengthen the National Labor Relations Board by increasing the agency’s enforcement authorities and staffing to speed the process of issuing bargaining orders. Upgrade regional NLRB offices, increase labor investigators, and protect the agency from any adversarial attempts at defunding.
End “Right To Work For Less” laws. States must allow employers and unions to enter fair share agreements. Unions represent all the workers in their bargaining units, not just those in the union. Everybody who benefits from unions should support those unions. End the tactics of “starving out” Labor.
Support unions in organizing sectoral bargaining.
End retaliation for workplace organizing. Impose more impactful fines on companies who fire employees for organizing. Any organization found guilty of retaliation by the NLRB will have to pay larger fees for the unlawful action to the affected workers.
End strike replacements. You are not supporting workers when you support companies that are at war with their workers. President Williamson will authorize the government to end contracts to companies that hire replacement workers during strikes.
A Williamson presidency will support all efforts to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 that placed unreasonable restrictions on organizing. The Taft-Hartley Act has been devastating to Labor, rigging the system against workers. It is time to get rid of it.
End “Captive Audience” intimidation meetings. Companies have resorted to “meetings of fear” that tell employees they will lose their job if they join a union. The Williamson administration will end these coercion tactics.
Expand the definition of “employee” to include many workers currently treated as independent contractors. No longer designate drivers working for app-based platforms (Uber, Lyft, DoorDash) as “independent contractors” so they can organize and collectively bargain.
End non-compete clauses. Contracts with non-compete clauses deny workers opportunities for better employment and have been proven to drive down wages. Working with Congress, we will ban these tactics that prevent workers from finding competitive employment.
End surveillance monitoring. Ban employers from using surveillance software in the workplace, by which they monitor possible efforts to organize on emails and in private conversations.
End lockouts. Employer-initiated lockouts are used by companies to force employees to accept contract or work concessions. Any company engaging in lockouts will be denied federal contract and subsidies. A Williamson NLRB will be aggressive in using its injunctive authority to bring lockouts to an end.
Ensure collective bargaining for all public employees. In many states, public employees do not have collective bargaining rights. We must restore collective bargaining for public employees immediately with legislation. Collective bargaining dramatically strengthens public education teachers’ rights to advocate for the things their students need. Strengthen Labor, strengthens teacher, strengthen public education.
Large corporations will be required to let workers elect board members. This has been successfully deployed in Europe, letting workers have more control over corporate decision making that affects wages and benefits. Workers on corporate boards are more patriotic and work in their community’s best interest on issues of outsourcing or investments.
We see many instances where unions win their elections but fail to get a first contract. The Williamson administration will have the NLRB more aggressively mandate forced arbitration and even a first contract if the company is engaged in unfair labor practices.
Establish Federal Heat and Wind safety standards. Make sure workers are safe in dangerous conditions by establishing consistent processes for keeping everyone safe during inclement weather.
Establish and fund a National Worker Resource Center. Workers must know their rights and have access to confidential information about their rights to organize. A hotline must be created for workers being mistreated on the job.
Mandate PTO for workers affected by climate disasters. Pass the Worker Safety in Climate Disasters Act to protect workers from being fired or endangered by increasingly frequent and dangerous climate-related events.
Establish and fund a Civilian Climate Corps. The program would create jobs in environmental justice, restoration of public lands, and installation of renewable energy.
Protect rail workers by banning precision scheduled railroading (PSR) to reign in the greed of rail barons. Mandate a two-man crew rule, guarantee 10 paid sick days and expand safety requirements for all railroads.
Ensure universal Paid Time Off (PTO) by passing legislation that provides federally subsidized PTO for all workers. This includes at least a week of sick leave (more if needed), two weeks of paid vacation, and a week of personal days.
Unions are the countervailing power to corporate power. A Williamson administration will pass the PRO Act and strengthen workers’ ability to organize.
Urge Congress to pass an expanded version of the Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act (H.R. 564), guaranteeing all employees 12 weeks of paid family leave.
All Americans deserve a job, no matter their education. Every employee should be able to thrive in their workplace, no matter the work. All work should have respect, and all workers should have dignity. We have a lot of work to do to make that ideal a reality, and a lot of it begins in our hearts. A national holiday gives us a chance to reflect. This year, a deep reflection on the meaning of Labor Day leaves us with much to give thanks for, as well as much to recommit our efforts to.
Happy Labor Day to you and those you love. Let’s keep it real.