The Biden Administration more than once has declared that it fully intends to be the most union- and worker-friendly executive branch in history. Its latest action towards achieving that objective came Feb. 7 when the White House released a report prepared by its Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment.
A 43-page document, the report is the result of a series of task force meetings that were conducted to gather information and ideas for possible executive actions and statements. The group is chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris and vice-chaired by Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, a longtime trade union member and leader.
The task force was created in April 2021 when President Biden – operating under the conviction that increasing worker organizing and empowerment is critical to growing the middle class, building an economy that puts workers first, and strengthening our democracy – issued Executive Order 14025. Its focus is to “assess the available tools and determine how to employ them to remove barriers to worker organizing and collective bargaining.”
The report offers 70 recommendations that would “position the federal government as a model actor; use the federal government’s authority to support worker empowerment by providing information, improving transparency, and making sure existing pro-worker services are delivered in a timely and helpful manner; [and] use longstanding authority to leverage the federal government’s purchasing and spending power to support workers who are organizing and pro-worker employers.” The report said, “The recommendations were developed in collaboration with the over 20 executive agencies, departments and White House offices that are members of the task force. This work has been guided, too, by workers’ voices, many of whom the Vice President and Secretary of Labor met in their travels across the country.”
Among the recommendations that could impact maritime unions is the elimination of barriers so organizers may talk with federal employees and private-sector workers of federal contractors on federal property about the benefits of joining a union. It also listed recommendations pertaining to four federal agencies, including the Defense Department, which would help ensure federal contract dollars are not spent on anti-union campaigns and that anti-union campaign activities by federal contractors are publicly disclosed.
In addition, the Military2Maritime program for men and women who are leaving the armed services to become merchant mariners would benefit from a stated recommendation to “work with the Union Veterans Council to help service members, military spouses, and veterans transition into good union jobs.” (The SIU is affiliated with the council via the Maritime Trades Department.)
“The Biden-Harris Administration delivered another victory for working people today with the release of the first report,” stated AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “This unprecedented report recognizes the critical role that unions play in creating a fairer economy. By taking steps to give more workers the right to organize and bargain collectively, the administration is once again demonstrating that it is committed to using its power to support unions.”
The AFL-CIO noted the report calls for:
- Ensuring workers know organizing and bargaining rights;
- Establishing a resource center on unions and collective bargaining;
- Protecting workers who organize from illegal retaliation;
- Exposing employers’ use of antiunion consultants;
- Addressing equity across underserved communities; and
- Sharing the positive impact unions have on all workers and the U.S. economy.
Shuler said the AFL-CIO is “committed to working with the administration to implement these recommendations.” But she also called upon Congress “to pass both the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which will ensure that every worker who wants to join a union may freely do so.”
The report noted that Biden often points out “unions built the middle class and lift up workers, both union and nonunion.” Given this position, the administration – at its core – believes that unions benefit everyone, according to the report, which also reminds readers that unions have fought for and helped win many aspects of American’s work lives perhaps taken for granted today, like the 40-hour work week and the weekend, as well as landmark programs like Medicare.
According to the report, unions continue their fight for higher wages, greater job security, safety and health protections, health insurance and retirement plans, and protections from discrimination and harassment for all workers. Researchers have found that today’s union households earn up to 20% more than non-union households, with an even greater union advantage for workers with less formal education and workers of color.
Research has also shown that growing economic inequality, growing pay gaps for women and workers of color, and declining voice in our democracy for working class Americans are all caused, in part, by the declining percentage of workers represented by unions.
The National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935, noted that it is the policy of the United States to encourage the practice and procedure of collective bargaining, and to protect the exercise, by workers, of their full freedom of association. Unfortunately, according to the task force report, the federal government has not always done its part to turn this policy into action. In fact, in some cases government has actively undermined worker organizing, unions, and collective bargaining.
While some past administrations have taken individual actions to empower workers and strengthen their rights, the report stated that the Biden-Harris administration will be the first to take a comprehensive approach to doing so with the existing authority of the executive branch. The administration’s goal is not just to facilitate worker power through executive action; it is to model practices that can be followed by state and local governments, private sector employers and others.
Biden has directed the task force to continue its work, provide an update on actions taken, and offer further recommendations in six months.
The full report is linked on the SIU website.