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Biden’s Labor Plans

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As I’ve stated many times, Biden’s attention to organized labor is almost unprecedented among Democratic presidents, really going back to FDR. There really hasn’t been another president since Roosevelt who was that close to labor leaders and honestly, it’s not as if there weren’t real problems between FDR and many labor leaders, starting with John L. Lewis. Of course, Biden may be great on unions but that doesn’t mean the entirety of the Democratic Party is and so since he needs not only every Democratic vote to get any legislation passed but also Lord Manchin and others to support eliminating the filibuster, the ability to get the PRO Act passed, which would be the first comprehensive pro-labor legislation to pass Congress since 1938, isn’t going to happen. Facing the reality of this, the administration created a taskforce led by VP Harris to come up with other things the White House could do on the executive level to help out the labor movement. This was released for public consumption this morning and I was able to provide the Washington Post a few thoughts about the whole thing.

The White House report lays out dozens of recommendations for the federal government to undertake to encourage worker organizing, rights protected by 1935′s National Labor Relations Act, without going through Congress.

These recommendations include facilitating union growth in the federal government, where union membership rates are already higher than other industries. They also include having federal employers give more information about unions to new hires, informing employees about their collective bargaining rights and representation, and increasing the ability of unions to communicate with employees, such as by providing unions with work email addresses and access to physical and electronic bulletin boards.

The report also says the federal government should try to encourage unions among about 300,000 federal workers who are eligible to organize but not represented by bargaining units — seasonal wildland firefighters, for example.

“Like the rest of the Biden administration, this report showsnearly unprecedented attention to the demands of organized labor in the recent Democratic Party,” said Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island.

The task force, which was created by President Biden last April, includes most members of the Cabinet and is chaired by Vice President Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

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The Biden administration has offered vocal support for unions, with the president releasing a video last year telegraphing his support for Amazon workers organizing in Alabama, for example.

And recently, prominent strikes at companies including John Deere and Kellogg’s and the newfound success of union organizing at companies such as Starbucks have drawn attention to the continued appeal of organized labor in some sectors.

Democrats and labor advocates have also been pushing for the Pro Act, a bill to update the country’s labor laws and strengthen workers’ rights and ability to organize. Many liberals hope it could turn the tide after decades of declining numbers. But that bill, which the House has passed multiple times, is virtually certain not to pass the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority.

Loomis, the University of Rhode Island professor, said the labor movement really needed the Pro Act “to facilitate successful organizing and reset the playing field between unions and employers,” but with its prospects nearly dead at the moment, the set of government actions proposed by the task force was perhaps the administration’s best shot at improving the climate for organizing.

“It’s a combination of long-standing union desires and forward-thinking ideas, such as the idea to establish a wildland firefighter workforce that firefighter unions could possibly organize,” he said. “Of course, much of it could be overturned by the next Republican administration, which is the problem with executive actions, but there’s not much one can do about that.”

The task force will submit a second report to Biden in six months describing the implementation of these recommendations, the White House said.

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