Civil rights in America would have been impossible without labor unions; the 1963 March on Washington was organized by union activists A. Philip Randolf and Bayard Rustin. In fact, one of the main goals of the March on Washington was a $2 minimum wage, the equivalent of about $17 in 2019. Unions played a key role in American political life from the late 19th century through the 1960s, becoming the backbone of many progressive movements and legislation in this country. So what happened to labor, and can it be brought back to life? Well, as always, the senator from Vermont has a bold plan to organize workers and “win the class war.”
The reason is simple: unions are objectively good for workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 94 percent of union workers have access to medical care benefits from their employers, and 85 percent have access to life insurance. Only 66 percent of non-union workers receive medical care benefits, and only 53 percent get life insurance. When it comes to premiums, unionized workers pay 13 percent of the health care premium, while non-union workers pay 23 percent.
Furthermore, the decline of unions has fueled income inequality and allowed it to reach a height not seen in a century. Their decline since the 1970s has led to stagnating wage growth, as well as the productivity pay gap. To top it all off, unionized workers make about 22 percent more than non-unionized workers.
Senator Bernie Sanders, dedicated to reviving a pro-worker socialist movement, recognizes this and has released his “Workplace Democracy” plan which he claims would double union membership, almost like an adrenaline shot to the heart of American labor.
A few things his plan does:
- Makes it much easier to join a union. If a majority of workers decide to form a union, then they are allowed to do so, and it will be certified by the National Labor Relations Board. Employers are then required to enter into an arbitration process within 10 days of receiving a request for a union. This simplifies the process and ensures the demands of the workers are met.
- Ends the Taft Hartley Act provision banning closed workshops. This provision allows all workers to receive the benefits that union workers win without paying union dues or joining the union itself, effectively an incentive not to join because you can get the benefits without taking the risks that come with being a member.
- Ends the ability for companies like Uber to misclassify workers as “independent contractors” to avoid labor regulations.
- Bans the permanent replacement of striking workers. Employers must have a “just cause” for firing workers other than fear of unionization
These are just a few of the most important provisions of Senator Sanders’ plan, but it also addresses a criticism that’s been directed toward Sanders himself by his fellow Democrats. Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan was attacked because it replaces employer-based health insurance with public insurance, which would supposedly “take away” the health care that unions fought hard to win. Senator Sanders addresses this by requiring employers to enter new contract negotiations when Medicare for All is signed into law, ensuring that the savings that come from no longer having to pay for employee healthcare are distributed equitably in the form of wage increases or other benefits for workers.
Furthermore, unions put a lot of effort into trying to get healthcare plans, but with healthcare already covered by Medicare for All, workers can focus on other benefits, such as wage increases. This actually makes it easier for unions to operate by giving them less to worry about.
While the other presidential candidates love to talk about supporting unions, Senator Sanders is the only one who has actually put out such a bold plan for labor. By undoing anti-union legislation, backing unionization efforts, and protecting workers from unjust firing, the Sanders plan is the best on offer when it comes to supporting working class power. As income inequality and corporate hegemony soar to new heights, the Workplace Democracy plan is a much needed first step in restoring American democracy and halting the rise of oligarchy.