- Views & Opinions
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, on Oct. 7 introduced legislation that would make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
“The Workplace Democracy Act strengthens the middle class by restoring workers’ rights to bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions,” said Pocan in a news release. “One of the root causes of declining wages is that workers’ ability to join together and bargain for higher wages and better working conditions has been has been severely undermined. This bill would make it easier for workers to have a voice in the workplace, providing a bigger paycheck to middle class families trying to pay the mortgage and find a way to send their kids to college.”
“Millions of Americans who want to join unions are unable to do so because of the coercive and often illegal behavior of their employers,” stated Sanders, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president. “The benefits of joining a union are clear: higher wages, better benefits and a more secure retirement. If we are serious about reducing income and wealth inequality and rebuilding the middle class, we have got to substantially increase the number of union jobs in this country.”
The measure would make it easier for workers to join a union by allowing the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if a simple majority of eligible workers sign valid authorization cards. The bill also requires companies to begin negotiating within 10 days after certification. If no first contract is reached after 90 days, either party can request compulsory mediation. After 30 days of mediation, the parties will submit the remaining issues to binding arbitration.
Joining Sanders and Pocan at the news conference outside the U.S. Capitol were workers who have faced retaliation for trying to organize their fellow workers
“Working moms shouldn’t have to strike and face threats just to join a union,” said Kellie Duckett, a federal contract worker at the Capitol. “We should be able sign up for the union just like we sign up for the PTA.”
“I’m here to say that current labor laws don’t protect workers,” Mayra Tito, a federal contract worker, added. “I should know – I was fired from the Pentagon Starbucks after I went on strike for $15 and a union. That’s why we need the Workplace Democracy Act.”
“I was fired for speaking out in my workplace to improve patient care conditions by organizing a union,” Allysha Almad, a registered nurse from Pasadena, California, said. “My case is not unique. There are thousands of nurses and other workers who face retaliation when they try to raise their voices collectively to address unsafe condition — conditions that in hospitals and other workplaces actually endanger lives.”
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released earlier this year, union workers’ wages are 27 percent greater than for non-union workers. Seventy-nine percent of unionized workers receive health insurance from their employers, compared to only 49 percent of non-union workers. Seventy-six percent of union workers have guaranteed defined-benefit pension plans, compared to only 16 percent of non-union workers. Eighty-three percent of union workers receive paid with sick leave compared to only 62 percent of non-union workers.