Union News Roundup: 3 Federal Government Labor Initiatives Every Union Leader Should Know
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In terms of labor, President Biden’s tenure has been a roller coaster.
His administration has hit some highs, like expanding penalties for companies that illegally fire unionizing workers and assigning labor advisors to supervise federal contractors. It’s also had some significant lows, including forcing railroad workers to accept a subpar contract and weakening workers’ right to strike.
That said, the wins for the labor movement definitely exceed the losses. “Since Biden took office, the administration has implemented a slew of executive orders, made it easier for union representatives to organize on federal property, and strengthened retaliation protections for private sector workers,” writes Fatima Hussein, Associated Press news reporter who covers the U.S. Treasury Department.
The administration’s latest actions expand upon those pro-labor actions.
Federal Report Debunks Myth Unions Inhibit Economic Prosperity
Anti-labor forces regularly argue unions and their collective bargaining agreements are bad for workers and the economy. That is a lie, and a new report by the federal government sheds light on the truth.
One of the 70 recommended actions taken by President Biden’s White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment is the completion of a report that demonstrates the role of labor unions in the American economy. The Department of Treasury’s Office of Economic Policy released that report (“Labor Unions and the Middle Class”) in August 2023, and it unequivocally concludes that unions play a critical role in promoting both worker and economic prosperity.
That conclusion justifies many of the actions the Biden administration has taken to support union growth.
“The White House has been pushing to support unions and expand union membership as part of U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan to overhaul the U.S. economy, fight inequality and reallocate more corporate profits to the middle class,” write Reuters correspondents Nandita Bose and David Lawder. Those actions, according to the Treasury report, are warranted.
And the findings in this report are particularly useful for labor leaders who can use the data to motivate more workers to join unions.
“The report comes at a time of growing worker activism across the country and rising union popularity,” notes the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. However, many workers still fear retaliation by employers and fall victim to anti-union messaging contained in union-busting campaigns. The report can be used to refute employer claims about unions and build positive messaging about joining a union.
Federal Government Relaunches WORK Center
Given the option, nearly half of the nonunion workforce would vote to join a union, write Heidi Shierholz, Margaret Poydock, and Celine McNicholas in an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report. This finding comes after analyzing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) related to trends in union membership.
In other words, more than 60 million people in 2022 wanted to join a union, but couldn’t. The problem is that only 10 percent of those who want to organize know how to form a union, according to data from the federal government.
To solve that problem, one of the key initiatives of the Biden administration’s pro-labor agenda is to empower workers by giving them the information and tools they need to unionize. To achieve that end, the task force on worker organizing recommended federal agencies work together to create a “Know Your Rights” campaign.
One of the elements of that campaign is the Know Your Rights Toolkit that gives step-by-step instructions for forming a union. The government also updated worker.gov which gives detailed information about workers’ rights.
Perhaps the most useful resource is the Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge (WORK) Center which was recently relaunched by the Department of Labor. The WORK Center is an online resource center that provides workers a wealth of information regarding organizing to help those who are interested in organizing but don’t know what their rights are or where to start the process.
The website also has resources that unions can use to reach more workers with critical messaging about why they need to join unions. There are flyers, blog posts, newsletters, social media messages, and a library of other resources. Union organizers can use these to build messages that encourage workers to learn more about their rights at work and why they should unionize.
With so much information and so many resources in one centralized location, the WORK Center is one of the most comprehensive tools the federal government offers to help workers protect themselves in the workplace and form unions to win better protections.
Of the federal government’s efforts, Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su says: “We’re protecting every worker’s right to organize with resources like the newly updated Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge (WORK) Center and Know Your Rights Toolkit to make sure all workers know their rights and how to form a union if they choose.”
Department of Labor Revises Form for Reporting Employer Persuader Payments
Anti-labor employers often hire consulting firms to spearhead their union-busting campaigns. These persuaders or union avoidance consultants are “professional firms who offer bosses the specialized service of spreading union disinformation and sowing confusion in the ranks of workers,” explains Mel Buer, an associate editor and labor reporter at The Real News Network.
Companies invest a lot of money in the services performed by these firms. The EPI estimates employers spend $433 million per year on union-busting consultants.
When they hire these anti-union consultant, employers are required to file the LM-10 form with the DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) to disclose the “agreement or arrangement with a third-party consultant to persuade employees as to their collective bargaining rights or to obtain certain information concerning the activities of employees or a labor organization in connection with a labor dispute involving the employer.”
The disclosure gives transparency to those actions and helps the DOL and the NLRB identify and prosecute unfair labor practices committed by employers during an organizing campaign. That protection has now been extended to employees of federal contractors and subcontractors.
By law, federal contractors are prohibited from using federal funds for persuader activities. The new rule enables federal agencies to track contractors who have engaged the services of union-busting consultants to ensure they are not reimbursed for those expenses.
“This change will enable employees of federal contractors and subcontractors, and the public more broadly, to be informed about the indirect source of funding used to persuade or surveil them in connection with organizing and collective bargaining,” explains Jeffrey Freund, director of the OLMS.
Most workers have the legal right to organize. Many don’t know they have that right or don’t know how to go about unionizing. The Biden administration has made it a priority to educate workers about their rights at work and empower them to join unions. These latest initiatives demonstrate that commitment.
Labor leaders can promote these efforts and use these wins to motivate more workers to unionize. If people know the government and the law supports them, they may be more willing to risk employer retaliation to organize their workplaces. Unions can use a tool like UnionTrack® ENGAGE® to share these wins with members who are engaging in conversations with others about joining a union.
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