Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke on Thursday released a plan to strengthen unions and boost workers’ wages.
O’Rourke’s proposal includes a grab bag of union protections currently under consideration by House Democrats. It would permit the National Labor Relations Board — the quasi-judicial agency charged with protecting workers’ union rights — to impose monetary fines on employers that terminate a worker wrongfully or that, in violating the National Labor Relations Act, cause a worker to suffer economic harm. Under current law, the NLRB may order reinstatement or collection of back pay, but it can’t impose fines.
The proposal, in supporting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, H.R. 2474, would allow the NLRB to hold corporate directors and officers individually liable for any violations of which they had prior knowledge. O’Rourke’s plan would also make it easier for independent contractors to establish in court that they are misclassified as employees.
Further, O’Rourke’s plan seeks to create a European-style system of collective bargaining, where union leaders and managers would agree on minimum standards for an entire industry sector rather than negotiating separately with each individual company. For industries with little union presence, O’Rourke says he would establish so-called wage boards, with equal employer and employee representation, to bargain over industry-wide pay.
O’Rourke says he would preserve the Obama-era standard on joint employment, which made it easier for businesses — particularly large chains — to be held liable for labor violations committed by their franchisees and contractors. The Trump administration is in the process of writing a more business-friendly rule; O’Rourke says he would nominate NLRB members who would either protect the Obama-era standard or adopt a stronger one.
O’Rourke calls for a $15 minimum wage, including the elimination of lower wages for tipped workers and people with disabilities. He would also reinstate the Obama-era overtime rule, which raised to $47,476 the salary threshold under which virtually all workers are guaranteed time-and-a-half pay if they work more than 40 hours in a given week. The Trump administration is poised to issue a regulation setting the threshold below the Obama level, to $35,308.
In addition, O’Rourke would seek to adopt a stricter legal test making it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors. The change, already the subject of fierce debate in California, would give thousands of gig-economy workers the same legal protections as full-time employees, including the minimum wage and overtime.
O’Rourke also says he would sign a Democratic bill, H.R. 7 (116), to narrow the gender wage gap by preventing employers from basing pay on salary history and require employers to demonstrate that any pay disparity between a man and a woman was attributable to job performance rather than gender. In addition, he supports legislation to prevent LGBT discrimination in the workplace, H.R. 5 (116) , and giving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission more authority and funding to go after bad actors.
O’Rourke says he would also ban agreements that require workers to waive their right to sue their employer, a prohibition that has grown in popularity in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
To boost vocational training, O’Rourke says he would make community college free and invest $90 billion over 10 years to create more registered apprenticeships that meet national standards for quality. In addition, he says he would triple the amount of funding for adult training programs to $2.4 billion a year.
O’Rourke does not specify how he would pay for these proposals.
The vast majority of O’Rourke’s proposals would require approval from Congress, meaning that Democrats would have to win control of the House and Senate for them to become a reality. Many of the policies are based on existing legislation.
O’Rourke’s plan aligns with what other Democratic presidential candidates have already proposed. The most significant changes also have widespread support among House Democrats.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also supports European-style bargaining by industry sector. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in May released a detailed plan to close the gender wage gap. And Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) on Wednesday proposed $500 billion in new apprenticeship funding — more than five times the amount in O’Rourke’s plan.