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Free Advice for Commission to Support Labor Unions

Ideas and Issues

April 27, 2021

New Orleans

In one of President Biden’s recent executive orders, he announced a plan to appoint a White House commission, chaired by Vice-President Kamala Harris, to come up with ideas on how to support labor unions. Obviously, the government can’t organize unions for us, nor can they sign up our members, but there are certainly ways that they can make a huge difference. Since union membership density in the private sector has fallen to around 6%, we should certainly be open to any and all constructive suggestions. As a good citizen, I want to do my part in assisting the government and this newly minted commission, so I’ll throw a couple of ideas on the pile for them.

The federal government can certainly beef up the access for unions in situations where subcontractors are supplying any service to the federal government from cleaning floors to designing rockets and running the internet. All of these subcontracts fall under the Service Contract Act. Section 4c of the Act aligns wages and benefits in the contracting wage determinations, set by the Department of Labor, to the terms of a union collective bargaining agreement, which also means that unionized workers can’t be pushed to the low road by wage cutting competing bids. Unions have had success organizing blue-collar workers in janitorial and food service all the way to weather observers under the SCA. Where more access and support would make a difference would be in creating a neutral to supportive union climate among professional and technical subcontracts, where unions are not currently as strong.

Anything that looks like its tilting the scale might be controversial, but how about aggressive enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act on any company anywhere that receives any federal money. Simply put, any employer found to have been issued a complaint or signed a settlement agreement on an unfair labor practice charge before the NLRB would be barred from receiving any federal money period. Not simply barred from applying for a new contract or dismissed from any existing contract, but barred from receiving any federal money in any way, shape, or form.

Now that would make a huge difference! It would change the anti-union animus in all varieties of corporations overnight. Is it possible? Is it legal? Sure, it is.

We saw this with the federal money bar against ACORN, despite the fact that we received almost no federal money. The budget amendment was so broad that even major banks like Citigroup and Bank America reneged on their outreach and lending contracts because their legal departments claimed that they could not work with us because they were receiving bailout monies from the federal government. ACORN lost the court challenges that this was unconstitutional as a “bill of attainder” and discriminatory on appeal, so it can be done. In France, we see the government’s anti-Muslim obsession barring employment from any veiled workers if they receive any money in any way from the national government there. This is what countries of all stripes do when then want to enact policies for or against different groups.

As it is now, and as various trackers have determined, numerous companies have received payroll protection monies during the pandemic who violated labor, environment, consumer and other regulations. In effect, the government is awarding violators. It would hardly be a radical proposition for this new commission to advocate that there isn’t just a carrot, but a real stick behind the federal policy supporting collective bargaining and workers’ rights to organize unions. We don’t need new law to even the organizing field, we need real enforcement of existing laws.

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