Bernie Sanders' Plan to Rebuild Labor Unions Would Be a Huge Win for Working Americans

If actually implemented, this would upend American political economy. (Photo: Illustrated | OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images, whyframestudio/iStock, Happy_vector/iStock)

Bernie Sanders' Plan to Rebuild Labor Unions Would Be a Huge Win for Working Americans

It would be a glorious victory for nearly all of the American people—which is why big business will fight it to their dying breath.

David Portnoy, the founder of the fratty oaf website Barstool Sports, recently got national press attention for flagrantly violating labor law on Twitter. After sharing an article about how much he hates unions, he threatened that if any of his employees talked to a labor reporter, "I will fire you on the spot."

According to the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Act "forbids employers from interfering with employees in the exercise of rights to form, join or assist a labor organization for collective bargaining." Portney is now under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). But, in a mark of the moribund status of American labor law, it is virtually certain that he will not be meaningfully punished -- as other right-wing publishers have not in similar circumstances.

Luckily--for Barstool Sports employees but also for anybody who currently has a job, plans to get one in the future, or whose friends and family work --Bernie Sanders is riding to the rescue with a proposal for what would be the most sweeping pro-union program in the history of the United States. It's not just high time employers were forced to obey the dang law, it's also a long overdue way to help the American worker.

Unions used to be the foundation of the American middle class, and their deliberate destruction is one major reason why the American economy is so hideously unequal (and prone to crisis). As Vox's German Lopez writes:

[U]nions were crucial to some of the biggest gains in this area in the past century, from the New Deal to the Affordable Care Act. In doing this, unions also help address income and wealth inequality, which have fueled social and political discord in the US in recent decades. Based on reviews of the research, the decline in unions-- of about 66 percent since the 1940s and '50s -- can explain about 10 to 30 percent of the rise in inequality we've seen in the past several decades. [Vox]

Probably the core of the Sanders plan is a total overhaul of the basic structure of union organizing. Currently, American unions are organized separately at each individual workplace: First you identify your bargaining unit and a union to join, then you send the NLRB cards proving at least 30 percent of the workforce wants a union, then you hold an election, and if you get a majority, hey presto, you're unionized! It's not that tough in theory, but in practice there are multiple legal opportunities for employers to trip up or stall the process -- and a great many illegal ones that they usually get away with.

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