The Workplace Democracy Act restores workers’ bargaining power

Last Friday’s jobs report showed that the unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent, the first time is has dipped below 4.0 percent since 2000. While many factors contribute to the overall unemployment rate—including labor force participation rates—policymakers should take note that a tightening labor market is not resulting in higher wages for working people. Nominal wage growth continues to fall short, rising only 2.6 percent over the year. One significant reason workers have been unable to insist on an increase in their paychecks is the uniquely low bargaining clout of U.S. workers.

While 60 percent of adults have a favorable view of labor unions, the most recent data available on union membership shows that, as of 2017, only 10.7 percent of wage and salary workers were union members. This disconnect is the result of decades of fierce opposition to unions and collective bargaining. These efforts have led to the enactment of state laws weakening—and even repealing—collective bargaining rights. At the federal level, corporate lobbyists have blocked attempts to reform outdated labor laws, enabling employers to exploit loopholes in the law and defeat workers’ organizing efforts. It is now standard practice for private employers to hire union avoidance consultants to quash workers’ efforts to unionize. Nearly ten years ago, a study found that roughly one-third of private sector employers fire workers during an organizing effort and over half of employers threaten to close the worksite if workers unionize. It is likely that employer opposition has intensified over the last decade, leaving more workers vulnerable to unlawful retaliation for exercising rights promised them over 80 years ago.

The Workplace Democracy Act, introduced today by Senator Bernie Sanders and several Democratic cosponsors, would begin to restore workers’ right to join together to improve their wages and working conditions. The legislation includes many critical reforms including closing loopholes in the law that enable employers to misclassify workers, denying them the right to organize. The bill also ensures that employers cannot subcontract their way out collective bargaining. And, the legislation ensures that working people have meaningful leverage in the workplace. These reforms would give U.S. workers more bargaining clout which is necessary to ensure a just economy.