President Joe Biden portrayed himself as a worker from Scranton, Pennsylvania for decades, and part of his political role is to appeal to the luncheon crowd – working class voters. In the central “battlefield” states of the Midwest, many workers are represented by unions, so it is not surprising that Biden’s presidential campaign has focused on union voting. NBC News reported that “Biden’s campaign began in a union hall in Pittsburgh, a city closely related to organized labor, and ended nearby with a promise to be” the most union-friendly president you have ever seen “on the night of the election His campaign platform was a wish list of actions in favor of the unions.
The game worked. The Wall Street Journal reports that “Democratic candidates received more than 87% of the $ 74 million donated by PACs and union members in the 2020 election cycle, according to the impartial Center for Responsive Politics.” According to polls for the exit by NBC News, Biden won 56 percent of union households versus 40 percent of Trump, doubling Hillary Clinton’s 8 percentage point margin in the group four years earlier. After the organized labor generates money and votes for Biden, it expects Biden to keep his promise to rule as the union-friendly president. After losing political favor during the Trump administration, union leaders are counting on Biden to help stem the long decline in union membership and influence. Within a few days of his inauguration, Biden was already delivering.
The unions clearly have an ally in the White House and are hoping for a reversal of their declining wealth.
Biden appointed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a former President of the Laborers’ Union Local 223 and head of the Building and Construction Council, as his Secretary of Labor. Walsh will be the first union leader to head the Department of Labor in nearly 50 years. Biden quickly signed executive orders restoring collective bargaining rights for federal employees. In a confrontational move welcomed by union leaders, Biden called for the resignation of the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel, Peter Robb, and his deputy, and dismissed them when they refused, even though Robb’s four-year term did not expire until November 2021.
The unions hated Robb for what they saw as his anti-worker interpretations of the National Labor Relations Act, enforcement of which is at the discretion of the NLRB’s General Counsel. In cases involving passengers, college athletes, and graduate students, Robb had concluded that the NLRA’s legal protection – specifically the right to organize in unions and bargain collectively – did not extend to independent contractors and non-employees. Robb also refused to hold franchisors like McDonalds responsible for the employment practices of its hundreds of independent franchisees. The dismissal of a General Counsel of the NLRB during his tenure was viewed by business leaders as a violation of historical norms. The US Chamber of Commerce condemned the move, as did the Republicans in Congress.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC), the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said the “outrageous ultimatum” to Robb was a reward for “big labor.” Foxx called on Biden to “withdraw this ill-advised and divisive action against a Senate-approved official and allow General Counsel Robb to complete the work for which he was appointed independently and free from political influence.” Senate Minority Chairman Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) Criticized Robb’s dismissal, calling it “unprecedented” because the resignation came before the end of the General Counsel’s term. In contrast, the union leaders were happy. “Robb’s removal is the first step in giving workers a fair shot again and we look forward to building on that victory by securing a worker-friendly NLRB,” said Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO.
Biden has urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour. Without lifting the filibuster, it is uncertain how much pro-union legislative action will be feasible in the evenly divided Senate, but union leaders hope that with Biden’s support, significant reforms will be made. In particular, organized work supports the re-enactment of the Law on the Protection of the Right to Organize (PRO Law). The PRO Act would weaken state-level laws on the right to work, which prohibit trade unions from enforcing membership as a condition of employment and, among other things, prevent companies from replacing workers on strike. The PRO law was passed in 2020. The controversial Senate legislation was not taken up against Republicans and corporate groups. The PRO Act would dramatically change the rules for holding union representation elections, including preventing employers from participating in (ie, rejecting) trade union elections in the workplace.
The PRO bill will be a major source of contention in Congress in 2021. Biden supports the PRO bill, but the US Chamber of Commerce and other business groups strongly oppose it because, according to a spokesman for the chamber, “a pretty dramatic change in work is a bill that tilts the entire process in favor of the unions, rather than the balance establish between the parties that the National Labor Relations Act has always sought to maintain. “Opponents believe that the PRO law at this Congress is facing a more uncertain path than last year, after the majority of the Democratic House has been narrowed and amid a narrowly divided Senate.
The unions clearly have an ally in the White House and are hoping for a reversal of their declining wealth. Politico quotes a union leader: “I understand that in a long, long, long time it will be the most significant work- and worker-friendly administration,” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. the first union to support Biden during the Democratic primary. “But is it too late?
The Union’s membership in the private sector has declined. Unions increasingly rely on “card checks”, neutrality agreements and corporate campaigns to ensure representation, as they often lose secret NLRB elections (when they can even muster enough support for staff to force an election). Increasing the number of unionized public employees will not restore the labor movement to its former position of power and influence. Gimmicks like organizing college athletes, graduate students, and independent contractors (like Uber drivers) will not revive the once robust labor movement.
As I wrote here in 2016: “The truth is that economic changes since 1935 have made union representation less attractive to American workers. No amount of harassment can change that. “Expect a lot of fiery rhetoric from union leaders in the months ahead, but little in the way of major legislative reform.