Over the past two years, teachers marched in Illinois, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Arizona, and other states to win higher wages for themselves and better conditions for their students. The United Auto Workers struck a deal with General Motors to raise wages and prevent over-reliance on temporary labor. Airline workers are striking for better benefits. Last year, 500,000 workers went on strike, the most since the 1980’s.1 These strikes will only continue to grow as workers are waking up to the fact that they are working more and more for less and less. The American people are starting to notice, too. Today, union approval ratings are near 50-year highs.2

As unions fight to get workers their fair share, the government is making that fight harder. State legislatures are stripping workers of key collective bargaining rights, which is pushing membership down, and last year the Supreme Court hampered unions’ ability to fairly bargain.

By restricting organizing rights, we are moving our country in the wrong direction. We must align our policies to encourage the formation of unions and expand their negotiating power, so they can adequately represent workers and win fair contracts and protections with employers. Empowering unions will help working families and put pressure on employers to provide fair wages and benefits.

While unions have fought tirelessly for over a century, another battle is upon us. The 4th Industrial Revolution stands to replace millions of union jobs with computer software and industrial robots. If union members and leaders aren’t prepared, workers could be left without a voice during the biggest economic transformation in American history.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, General Mills workers fought and won key language that guarantees notice and leverage if the plant managers try to outsource their jobs. To prepare for the future, unions will have to fight for similar provisions as automation risks jeopardizing their member’s livelihoods. With the right leverage, unions can guarantee their ability to negotiate fair benefits and settlements to help workers’ transitions.

This fight will not be easy, and it will take working families who are willing to fight for the rights they deserve. We must protect workers’ right to unionize and pass a Freedom Dividend of $1000 a month to act as a permanent strike fund. This will help workers strike longer and harder to win a seat at the table during the design and deployment of the technologies that are shaping the future of work.

Ensuring Unions Have a Seat at the Table

To ensure that unions can fight for protections for all workers, they need collective bargaining rights. Historically, strong unions have used their collective bargaining power to ensure that increases in productivity translate to rising wages and benefits for the middle class. Today, these rights are under attack. Courts and legislatures have written and upheld laws that strangle unions’ ability to organize and negotiate benefits. This erosion of union bargaining power has kept wages stagnant for union and nonunion workers, even as technology has driven production up.3 We must restore collective bargaining rights to reconnect rising productivity to rising wages for middle class workers.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) can play a key role in leveling the playing field for organized labor.4 We must entrust the NLRB with the power to order companies to the bargaining table if those companies have been found in violation of fair labor practices and fine those that illegally prevent their employees from organizing. For the NLRB to function as it was intended, we must appoint leaders with union experience.

As we establish fair rules, we must also ensure that workers can organize from the bottom up. We must pass the Protect the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) that guarantees critical organizing rights and limits union-busting activities, while fighting endemic employee misclassification that denies full-time workers essential benefits and organizing rights.5 By protecting the rights of workers to organize, we can ensure the growth and presence of unions during this important moment in the fight for workers’ rights.

As President, I will…

  • Defend the collective bargaining rights of workers.
  • Empower the NLRB to guarantee negotiations and fine companies for illegally hampering union formation.
  • Appoint a Labor Secretary and NLRB leaders with union experience.
  • Work with Congress to pass the PRO Act to protect workers’ rights to organize and negotiate on a level playing field.
  • Ensure that unions are certified and recognized by both the company and the NLRB should a union receive 50%+1 of employees on a job site signing union authorization cards.

Union Urgency in the 4th Industrial Revolution

As the 4th Industrial Revolution accelerates, we must ensure that the biggest winners of the 21st century economy do not suck up the gains of automation at the expense of everyone else. Unions will play a critical role in negotiating how new wealth uplifts working people. During this time of transition, it’s more important than ever that unions have a seat at the table.

As companies are developing and deploying new technologies, employers are accountable to their shareholders, but not to the wellbeing of their employees. Automation has already blasted away millions of manufacturing jobs, and as it spreads across the economy, it threatens up to one-third of all the jobs in America.6 We must ensure that unions are represented in this ongoing discussion. Additionally, because of the transient nature in both tech and gig work, facilitating sectoral bargaining will enable unions to have a greater say in structuring bargaining negotiations. We should support union initiatives to develop technological expertise and share contract language on how to best negotiate with employers about automation.7 With the right representation, organized labor can reach appropriate training, transition, or settlement plans with employers. 

As President, I will…

  • Support the development of union automation expertise and access with AFL-CIO’s proposed Technology Institute as a model.
  • Protect and increase union bargaining power by:
  • Appointing members to the NLRB who accept the reality of the 4th industrial revolution and its effect on the middle class.
  • Empower unions to negotiate around automation and employer support in transitions to new jobs and/or training of any new equipment through the passage of the Pro Act.
  • Empowering the NLRB to enforce bargaining so workers benefit from the technology changing our economy.
  • Encourage sectoral bargaining for tech and gig workers so union members can easily move between jobs while expecting the same floor wages and working conditions.

Infrastructure

American infrastructure needs massive investment to repair and replace our existing crumbling system and prepare for climate change. The scale of the work that we must embark on is staggering and exciting. The construction and maintenance of new sustainable infrastructure will create millions of middle-class union jobs that will keep workers employed for decades. These government contracts will prioritize union contracts and not be extended to contractors with a track record of preventing organizing efforts.

To support the influx of new union jobs, we’ll need to expand vocational and apprenticeship programs that will train American workers to install, maintain, and repair sustainable infrastructure, and then ensure that all Americans who so choose can receive this training, including through programs starting in high school.

This is how we strengthen the middle class while transitioning to a sustainable economy.

As President, I will…

  • Ensure $4 billion in annual funding for vocational and apprenticeship programs to meet the demand for installation and maintenance/repair technicians for the new, sustainable economy.
  • Expand the high school curriculum to include programs to train individuals who want to enter one of these careers.
  • Prioritize sustainable infrastructure projects to go to unions’ contracts.
  • Create hundreds of thousands of union jobs and fight any effort to repeal the Davis Bacon Act.

21st Century Worker Protections

At the turn of the last century, unions fought to secure basic worker rights and built the foundation for the middle class. As we continue through the 4th Industrial Revolution, we must guarantee and extend worker protections to meet the needs of the 21st Century. 

As technology improves, employers are gathering and exploiting employee’s data to manage workers without their input. Employers can now track their employees’ communications, meetings, and even facial expressions. This compromises employee privacy and can expose them to discrimination. We must establish data as a property right to ensure employees are informed on what type of information their employer is gathering and what it is used for. Additionally, employers should not be able to sell their workers’ data without their consent. In turn, this will allow employees to organize without fear of being monitored.

To ensure workers are safe, treated fairly, and protected from discrimination, my administration will support legislation that promotes safe working environments. We must implement the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act to mitigate risk and establish incident investigations for health care and social security workers.8 Fair employment practices like guaranteed paid time off and paid family leave will curb worker burnout and prevent employers from discriminating against new parents and those with chronic medical conditions.

As we establish stronger protections, American workers’ rights and interests must always be a top priority in any trade agreement to prevent employers from fleeing overseas in search of cheaper labor. We must involve workers in the trade negotiations to ensure that our trade partners set acceptable labor and environmental standards, protect data privacy and American IP, and have strict enforcement standards.

Government initiatives that strengthen the entire middle class help to strengthen unions. With access to Medicare for All, which will increase demand and expansion for new union healthcare jobs, union members can prioritize negotiating other benefits, without the risk of losing insurance coverage. In addition, a Freedom Dividend of $1000 a month will help reduce exploitation by acting as a permanent strike fund. 

As President, I will…

  • Establish data as a property right to prevent employers from collecting and selling workers’ personal data without informed consent.
  • Promote safe working conditions through the passage of pro-union legislation.
  • Prioritize fair employment practice policies such as federally mandated paid time off and paid family leave. 
  • Pass Medicare for All while allowing for private insurance options that unions have fought for.
  • Give every American over 18 a monthly Freedom Dividend of $1000 which can act as a permanent strike fund.

Footnotes:

1 – https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/21/the-number-of-workers-on-strike-hits-the-highest-since-the-1980s.html#:~:targetText=The%20number%20of%20striking%20workers%20ballooned%20to%20nearly%20500%2C000%20in,work%20since%20the%20mid%2D1980s.

2 – https://news.gallup.com/poll/265916/labor-day-turns-125-union-approval-near-year-high.aspx

3 – https://www.epi.org/publication/charting-wage-stagnation/

4 – https://www.nlrb.gov/

5 – https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2474

6 – https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages

7 – https://aflcio.org/reports/afl-cio-commission-future-work-and-unions

8 – https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1309/text