Union advocates are ending the year and going into 2021 on an optimistic note about what the Biden administration will bring to organized labor. However, they will face an uphill battle as union membership has been reduced by half since 1983.
Biden has long been an advocate for organized labor and pledged to give unions a seat at the table in his administration. He sees unions as a way to strengthen the middle class and plans to incentivize union membership and collective bargaining.
The Biden administration also sees unions as a way to serve as a check on corporate power and prevent companies from withholding wages and not paying workers overtime.
According to Politico, Biden has added two union presidents to his transition team, Teresa Romero of the United Farm Workers and Lonnie Stephenson of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Biden also worked with Bernie Sanders over the summer to add pro-labor politics to the Democratic Party’s 2020 platform.
Union leaders are noticing these actions and applauding the sincerity with which Biden is treating labor unions.
“He’s doing more of this outreach than any other candidate that I’ve known on the Democratic side,” Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told Politico. “When he talks about organized labor, when he talks about the importance of unions, he really means it.”
Biden’s wife, Jill, is a lifelong educator and is expected to help ensure that teachers’ unions have a seat at the table when it comes to shaping education policy.
“Joe and I will never forget what you did for us,” Jill Biden told education news site Chalkbeat. “Joe and Kamala will not only listen to you, they’re going to make sure that your voices are leading this movement. Educators, this is our moment.”
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to stress public schools, with the Pew Research Center estimating that employment is down about 7% nationwide, with some states as high as 15-20%. Moving forward, unions will play a vital role in advocating for fair wages and safe working conditions for teachers and other school personnel.
“The unions have been pretty clear that they don’t want schools to reopen until it can be very safe to do so,” Katharine Strunk, an education policy professor at Michigan State University, told Chalkbeat. “If we do have someone [as education secretary] with a strong union background, we might see the school reopening conversation take a very different shape.”
Finally, Biden is expected to overturn a 2018 executive order signed by President Trump that imposed stricter deadlines on union contracts and other regulations that made it more difficult for unions to function. Some labor leaders predict this action will help set a solid foundation from which unions can begin to regain the ground they’ve lost in the employment world over the past few decades.
“The President-Elect, he was clear with me that he is extremely supportive of labor unions and of workers’ rights,” Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, told Marketwatch. “Ultimately, this is good for American taxpayers to have federal employees and agency leaders communicating and taking action together to solve problems before there’s a grievance and a lawsuit.”
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