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To 'Shift Power Back Towards Working People,' Warren Plan Aims to End Decades-Long Attack on Organized Labor

"We cannot have a truly democratic society with so little power in the hands of working people."

U.S. 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joins members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and supporters as they picket outside of General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Detroit, Michigan at a strike on September 22, 2019. (Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Denouncing the Trump administration and pro-corporate lawmakers for their repeated attacks on workers, Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday promised to return power to American workers with her labor rights plan.

In a statement, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate  explained that her proposal is centered around acheiving five broad goals:

  • Extending labor rights to all workers
  • Strengthening organizing, collective bargaining, and the right to strike
  • Raising wages and protecting pensions 
  • Increasing worker choice and control
  • Expanding worker protections, combating discrimination, and improving enforcement

Warren said, if elected, her administration would fight for bold legislation in Congress and also enact pro-labor reforms through executive orders. Specifically, her plan wouldend exceptions to the nation's labor laws which leave out many marginalized workers; raise wages so full-time workers will no longer be left unable to afford even modest housing, as is the case for minimum wage earners in every state in the U.S.; and reverse the shift of power from unions to wealthy corporations.

"We cannot have a truly democratic society with so little power in the hands of working people," wrote Warren. "We cannot have sustained and inclusive economic growth without a stronger labor movement. That's why returning power to working people will be the overarching goal of my presidency."

Warren explained that the growth of corporate lobbying is handing more and more power to corporations and taking it away from unions, which represent only 10 percent of American workers today compared with 35 percent in the 1950s. Too many workers have been left out of the country's economic growth, the senator said.

"Senator Warren is laying a path forward towards a truly democratic economy. Her plan will empower workers who have historically been denied basic workplace protections, like domestic workers, farm workers, and gig workers."
—Working Families Party

"Outdated exceptions—some originally motivated by outright racism or sexism—and changes in modern working arrangements have denied millions of workers these basic protections," Warren wrote.

The senator would expand the country's labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which leave domestic and farm workers out of their protections.

Exclusions in the laws "date back to objections from Southern segregationist politicians in the 1930s, who did not want these workers (in many cases, disproportionately women and people of color both then and still today) to have basic worker protections," wrote Warren. "These exclusions hurt millions of workers and have no justification."

Warren would also end the widespread practice by companies of misclassifying workers as "independent contractors," stripping them of rights that fully-recognized employees have. The practice has left millions of workers with fluctuating income, erratic schedules, and an inability to take collective action to fight for labor rights.

The senator backed a proposal in California in August to end worker misclassification, and vowed to fight it nationwide.

"This is a crucial moment in the fight for workers in this country," Warren wrote in an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee in support of A.B. 5 over the summer. "It's a time for us to show whose side we're on...I'm fighting for an America where everybody—even the biggest, richest, and most well-connected companies—plays by the rules."

Warren also aims to strengthen workers' ability to unionize. She would narrow the definition of "supervisor" used by the NLRA, the law that allows collective bargaining but leaves many people with supervisory duties out; reinstate the Obama era law allowing graduate students who teach classes to unionize; and give public sector workers the right to collectively bargain in every state.

Some observers on social media praised the senator for including a proposal to allow sectoral bargaining, in which employees from multiple countries across an industry can negotiate better wages and benefits for all of them.

"Each individual firm may have a strong incentive to resist collective bargaining if it believes it will raise costs and put the firm in a worse position relative to its competitors," Warren wrote. "But if every firm is bound by the same bargaining outcome, their relative standing remains. That creates conditions for a more successful bargaining process."

Also included in Warren's plan to strengthen unions are measures to prohibit states from passing "right to work" laws as 28 states have done in recent years, keeping unions from collecting dues from all workers who benefit from their contracts; restrict employers from interfering in union elections and other anti-union activity, and strengthen unions' right to strike by by appointing National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) members who recognize that strikes are legal under the NLRA.

"When state or local officeholders use their power and influence to intimidate workers or to dissuade them from unionizing, a Warren administration will respond," Warren wrote. "We will make sure that affected workers know the federal government will protect their rights, and we will take every step possible to prevent federal resources from being used by state or local government to intimidate or coerce workers who are exercising their rights under federal law."

Under a Warren administration, the senator wrote, all federal employees would immediately be paid a minimum wage of $15 per hour, while Warren would fight to pass the Raise the Wage Act, guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage to all workers.

Combating discrimination and harassment is also part of her proposal, including plans to require fair scheduling practices and ban retaliation for workers who request time off for childcare or health needs; push for the passage of the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act support a transition to integrated employment for people with disabilities; and protect workers from discrimination during the hiring process for their salary histories, criminal records, gender, or race.

The extensive plan was praised by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.

The proposal "would overhaul America's broken labor laws and empower workers to organize millions at a time, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to join a union no matter where they work," Henry said.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants also applauded Warren on social media:

"Together, these changes will shift power back towards working people, boost America's labor movement," wrote the senator, "and help create an economy that works for everyone."

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