When the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed in 1935, the workers in the United States were facing a lot of the same strife and struggle that workers today are experiencing. Workers were doing whatever they could to make ends meet and to put food on the table. They worked in unsafe conditions, and they were targeted and fired for trying to join a Union. Workers were treated as temporary and not provided benefits. And so, while companies and CEOs were bringing in record profits, Congress and the President acted.
The passage of the NLRA allowed worker rights to flourish in this country. As Unions grew and more people were covered by collective bargaining agreements, the middle-class began to grow and wage disparities between bosses and workers began to shrink. Then, as now, the politicians supporting the CEOs and the corporations called this socialism!
To think, paying workers a living wage, providing them with health benefits and retirement instead of forcing them to rely on the government for those things, is called socialism by the conservative party.
Fast forward from 1935 to 2020. The country is in the midst of a pandemic – companies are shutting down and closing their doors. The nation is relying on “essential workers” so that the well-off can work from home. These same “essential workers” – in hospitals, grocery stores, delivery and shipping companies – are being paid subsistence wages, not being provided paid sick leave, not being provided the PPE needed to perform their jobs.
During the Depression we had a Congress that, while divided, was led by a President whose goal was to get us back on our feet again. With Roosevelt’s leadership and determination, Congress passed The National Recovery act of 1933, The Social Security Act in 1935, The Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act) in 1935, the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 creating the minimum wage and outlawing child labor, and in 1944 the Federal-Aid Highway act that called for the creation of 40,000 miles of interstate highway be build between 1946 and 1948.
The pandemic of the last year plunged our economy into turmoil, unlike anything seen since the Great Depression. Workers were sent to work from home, businesses shut down and restaurants shifted to take-out only. We were forced to turn hourly, low-wage, uninsured (for the most part) workers into the role of essential workers to keep our society moving.
Before Roosevelt died, he proposed a second bill of rights. In that Second Bill of Rights Roosevelt called for each American to have:
- A job
- An adequate wage and decent living
- A decent home
- Medical care
- Economic protection during sickness, accident, old age or unemployment
- A good education
These are all things that the wealthiest nation in the world should be able to provide its citizens. Every one of these proposed rights surfaced as critical issues during the pandemic, and we have much room to improve. And improve we must.
The first step towards getting back on track is finally coming from the top, our country’s leadership, and that is getting people vaccinated. Now it’s time to get a jobs package passed by congress that will help spur the economy.
This phase, spearheaded by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, will go a long way towards making us whole.
On March 31, President Biden released the first step in his Build Back Better plan for the country by releasing The American Jobs Plan. He tied it to the PROAct, which was recently passed by the U.S. House and is waiting for discussion and hopefully passage by the Senate. The cornerstone of these pieces of legislation is creating hundreds of thousands of Union jobs across the country.
The PROAct, or Protecting the Right to Organize Act, would be the largest worker rights bill passed since 1935 when the National Labor Relations Act was passed. Some of the things it would do for workers are:
- End state Right-to-Work for less laws
- Striking workers could no longer be permanently replaced
- “Secondary” strikes and boycotts would be legal
- Erode definitional distinctions between employees, independent contractors and supervisors under the definition of employee by codifying the ABC Test
- Federal arbitrators can impose terms of labor contracts
- Mandatory arbitration agreements
- Impose financial penalties against employers who interfere with workers’ organizing efforts
- Prohibit employers from requiring employees to attend meetings regarding the employer’s views on unionization
Many of these are issues that the National Labor Relation Board has supported and used in the past under rules but the Act would codify them in law. It would also return the NLRB to do the work of its original mission statement: “to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.”
Once the PROAct has been passed we can focus on the American Jobs Plan calling to put people to work so that we can Build Back Better. By putting people to work in good paying Union jobs, we can go a long way toward achieving the goals in Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights. Union contracts include living wages, health benefits, retirement, and sick leave.
The question is how do you create that many good paying long-term jobs and still move the country towards an environmentally sustainable position? The American Jobs Act would:
- Fix highways, rebuild bridges, upgrade ports, airports and transit systems: modernize 20,000 miles of highways and roads, repair over 10,000 bridges, modernize public transportation by replacing 24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars, 200 stations, and thousand of miles of track.
- Rebuild clean drinking water infrastructure, a new electrical grid, and high-speed broadband to all Americans: replace 100% of the nations lead pipes, create high-speed broad band infrastructure to 100 of Americans at affordable rates and build a more resilient electrical transmission system.
- Solidify the Infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers.
- Invest in R&D, revitalize manufacturing and small businesses, and train Americans for the jobs of the future.
- Create good-quality jobs that pay prevailing wage in safe and healthy workplaces while ensuring workers have a free and fair choice to organize, join a Union, and bargain collectively with their employers
- The made in America tax plan: set the Corporate Tax Rate at 28%, discourage offshoring by strengthening the global minimum tax for U.S. multinational corporations, prevent U.S. corporations from claiming tax havens as their residence, eliminate tax preferences for fossil fuels making sure polluting industries pay for environmental clean-up.
We can put these proposals into place and show the world that we can bounce back stronger than ever from the effects of the pandemic. We can put ourselves back on track to achieve the Second Bill of Rights proposed by Roosevelt over 75 years ago. We need to hold our elected officials accountable for the state of our economy and to ensure that they are doing what is in our best interest. The first steps towards making that happen is contacting them and asking for them to support, sponsor and vote for the PROAct and the American Jobs Plan.
The gridlock that a 50/50 split has in the U.S. Senate will be a tightrope to cross. Sen. Manchin (D-WV) has decided to play the role of Senator Bipartisanship and is refusing to vote for major reform and job creation bills until they are palatable to the Senate GOP. He is holding up the John Lewis voting rights act, the Build Back Better jobs program and, because they are tied together now, the PROAct. Workers need to take to the streets and demand these be passed so that we can rebuild our country and our democracy.