Sanders, Pocan Lead Bill to Restore Workers’ Rights

WASHINGTON, May 9 – With public support for unions at 61 percent, the highest in 15 years, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and their colleagues in the Senate and House introduced legislation Wednesday that would strengthen the middle class by restoring workers' rights to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. The legislation has been endorsed by virtually every major union in America. 

Unions lead to higher wages, better benefits and a more secure retirement. Union workers earn 26 percent more, on average, than non-union workers. Union workers are also half as likely to be victims of health and safety violations or of wage theft, 18 percent more likely to have health coverage, and 23 percent more likely to have either an employer sponsored pension or 401(k).

However, the rights of workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined. Sixty years ago, nearly a third of all workers belonged to a union. Today, that number has gone down to less than 11 percent. When workers become interested in forming unions, 75 percent of private-sector employers hire outside consultants to run anti-union campaigns. An employee who engages in union organizing campaigns has a one in five chance of getting fired.

“We must no longer tolerate CEOs and managers who intimidate, threaten or fire pro-union workers, who threaten to move plants to China if their workers vote in favor of a union, and who refuse to negotiate a first contract with workers who have voted to join unions,” Sanders said. “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.”

“Republicans like President Trump and Governor Walker continue to crack down on unions and push a special interest, corporate-driven agenda that makes it harder for middle class families to get ahead. And while they stack the deck against the American worker, unions are fighting to expand economic opportunity and strengthen the middle class,” said Pocan. “The Workplace Democracy Act restores real bargaining rights to workers and repeals the right to work laws like those that Governor Walker has used to undercut American workers. I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Sanders and stand up for the millions of middle class families who are under attack by Republican leaders.”

The Workplace Democracy Act would make it easier for workers to join unions in a number of ways.

It would end right to work for less laws by repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft Hartley Act, which has allowed 28 states to pass legislation eliminating the ability of unions to collect fair share fees from those who benefit from union contracts and activities.

Under the legislation, when a majority of workers in a bargaining unit sign valid authorization cards to join a union, they must have a union. Companies would not be allowed to deny or delay a first contract with workers who have voted to join a union. Unions would be given the right to have their voice heard through secondary boycotts and picketing. And workers would have the right to know when their company spends millions of dollars running anti-union campaigns.

The bill would also stop employers from ruthlessly exploiting workers by misclassifying them as independent contractors or denying them overtime by falsely categorizing them as a “supervisor.”

“When workers’ rights to collective bargaining are attacked and undermined, corporations have enormous power over their workers and can keep wages so low that even full-time employees are still living in poverty,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “That is not how our economy is supposed to work. We need to start rewarding work again in this country, and that means making sure every worker has the right to join together to fight for the pay and protections they deserve. I am proud to fight for this important legislation with Senator Sanders, and I urge all of my colleagues in the Senate to join us in standing up for our workers.”

The bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the bill with Pocan in the House.

Click here to read the bill.

Click here to read a summary of the bill.

To watch the press conference, click here.