UNIONS: It’s Our Time!

Starting with the White House and continuing down Pennsylvania Avenue to Congress, the language of government is now about working people, including UWUA members -- the men and women who do the work every day that has always made this country great.

The presidential inauguration in January ushered in a new era of governing. The mindset of national government has moved rapidly from being relentlessly anti-worker and anti-union toward an approach that places the well being of working families at the center of the administration’s mission.

Perhaps in a way not seen since the Great Depression, progressive politicians are now speaking about workers, labor unions, and the needs of the working class in terms that could well come to define them as elected representatives. Starting with the White House and continuing down Pennsylvania Avenue to Congress, the language of government is now about people like UWUA members — the men and women who do the work every day that has always made this country great.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, introduced in the House and Senate in early February, represents a generational, perhaps once in a century, opportunity to reform federal labor law in a way intended to empower workers and their unions. As a reaction to decades of corporate bad actors, union busting, and the steady degradation of labor rights in the courts and state legislatures, the PRO Act is an opportunity for working people to finally have their voices heard and their concerns addressed

Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed the PRO Act in 2020, an anti-worker majority blocked it in the Senate. This time, the political tide is with those on the side of the working class. The PRO Act aims to change the power dynamic in America, giving working people a real say in their own future and the opportunity to shape the economy and world of work for decades to come. Simply put, it would be the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the 1930s. The goals of the bill include:

  • Empowering workers to organize and bargain;
  • Ensuring that workers can reach a first contract quickly;
  • Ending the practice of hiring permanent replacements;
  • Meaningfully penalizing employers who retaliate against union supporters;
  • Repealing state “right to work” laws — divisive and racist laws created during the Jim Crow era to disempower marginalized workforces.

 

The PRO Act is more than labor law reform, it’s civil rights legislation. A union contract closes racial and gender wage gaps, and ensures dignity and due process for workers, regardless of individual identities. Removing barriers to organizing and bargaining is important for all workers, especially those who have been marginalized.

As a candidate, President Biden pledged to sign the PRO Act into law, and committed to increasing unions’ power. As he has stated, worker power is not anti-business. It’s about creating growth and family-supporting jobs.  The UWUA will be watching Congress closely as the PRO Act advances in the early months of this year and, as trade unionists, UWUA members will all be called on to lift up their voices and demand that action finally be taken to advance the rights and interests of working people.

Political appetite to empower labor doesn’t end with the PRO Act, however. Soon to be reintroduced for this Congress, the Good Jobs for the 21st Century Act would go even further, establishing a new 10% tax credit for qualifying energy infrastructure projects that meet high road labor standards including:

  • Payment of prevailing wages and benefits;
  • Prohibiting mandatory arbitration for labor disputes;
  • Prohibiting worker misclassification as independent contractors;
  • Banning temporary staffing agencies outside of acute, short-term labor shortages;
  • Requiring a neutrality policy on organizing and collective bargaining;
  • Requiring union apprentices for at least 20% of each craft on a job.

 

The message is clear — for those employers who make a choice to be good corporate citizens, they stand to reap the rewards of having the most highly skilled and best trained workers on their job sites, as well as receiving a tax break giving them a competitive advantage over non-union employers and those who seek to flaunt labor law.

Particularly when paired with strengthened Buy America standards — which were recently included in an executive order signed by President Biden — key steps are being taken to create the high-quality, community-sustaining jobs that will maintain the U.S. as a globally competitive leader while elevating and empowering American workers.

President Biden recently signed a broad executive order establishing the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization. The order directs agencies across the entire federal government to bring to bear all available resources to assist coal mining, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities navigating the energy transition that has been playing out for many years.

This working group represents a meaningful and long overdue acknowledgement of the contributions coal miners, powerplant workers and their families have made in powering America, and of the challenges these individuals have faced as the industry rapidly evolves. This new effort represents forward thinking for a sector that, for decades, has simply locked its doors on so many workers and forgotten them.

An unprecedented level of coordination across the federal government, including the Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Commerce and 10 others will be required to work together to create opportunities and deliver benefits to workers and communities impacted by facility closures. As Utility Workers understand, powerplant closures are economically catastrophic.

Now, for the first time, the White House is demonstrating that a true energy evolution must also be a positive economic revolution for workers and communities. In this regard, American workers — UWUA members — are being heard, and honored, in a way not seen since the days of President Franklin Roosevelt, whose portrait now hangs in the Oval Office both as a reminder of America’s progressive past and as a challenge to create an American future in service to the working class.