Democrats propose sweeping labor reforms with The Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act
Word of the Week – Engagement
Congressional Democrats on Wednesday unveiled The Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act, a set of proposals to bolster the nation’s labor laws in an election-year quest to recapture working-class voters.
The plan, which would tip the balance of power toward unions in a way not seen since the National Labor Relations Act became law in 1935, stands virtually no chance of passage in a Republican-controlled Congress. But Democrats framed it as an attempt to reconnect with voters attracted to the anti-establishment working-class messages of President Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“The Golden Era in America was defined by the existence of unions,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “Since then, unions have been under relentless attack by big corporate special interests backed by Congressional Republicans. If Mr. Trump truly wants to make America great again, he needs to start by protecting the American worker and disassembling the rigged system that undermines workers’ freedoms instead of empowering special interests and big corporations.”
The bill — sponsored by Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) — would overturn several Supreme Court decisions unfavorable to organized labor. It also would allow the National Labor Relations Board to level monetary penalties in excess of reimbursing back pay, and would hold corporate officers personally liable for labor violations.
The bill also would allow employees to bypass the NLRB altogether to resolve labor disputes, allowing them to sue employers in court.
The bill would overturn the recent Supreme Court ruling in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, which permitted employers to impose mandatory arbitration agreements on employees, and would pre-emptively reverse an anticipated Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that’s expected to outlaw “fair share” fees that public employee unions charge non-members to cover their share of collective bargaining costs.
Worse than EFCA?
The Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act protects the freedom to join a union by
(1) Bolstering Remedies and Punishing Violations of Workers’ Rights
(2) Strengthening Workers’ Freedom to Stand Together and Negotiate for Better Working Conditions
(3) Restoring Fairness to an Economy that is Rigged Against Workers
Deterring and Punishing Violations of Workers’ Rights
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the federal law that protects workers’ right to stand together and
negotiate with their employers, does not empower workers to enforce their labor rights in court or permit the
Board to assess monetary penalties that could deter and punish unlawful conduct, such as firing workers for
seeking a union or insisting on better working conditions. In response, the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act:
- Authorizes a private right of action for violations of workers’ rights. The bill allows workers to seek justice in
court when employers unlawfully interfere with their NLRA rights or retaliate against them for exercising
NLRA rights. Under current law, workers’ may turn only to the NLRB General Counsel to enforce their NLRA
- Authorizes meaningful penalties for employers that violate workers’ rights. The bill authorizes the National
Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to assess monetary penalties for each violation in which a worker is wrongfully
terminated or suffers serious economic harm. The bill also permits the Board to impose liability on corporate
directors and officers who participate in violations of workers’ rights or have knowledge of and fail to prevent
- Strengthens support for workers who suffer retaliation for exercising their rights. Rather than enduring a
long period of unemployment waiting for their case to be heard, the bill requires NLRB to immediately seek an
injunction to reinstate the employee while their case is pending. It also gives the NLRB the power to enforce
its own rulings like other federal agencies, instead of waiting for a decision from the Court of Appeals.
- Prevents employers from interfering in union elections. The bill prohibits employers from requiring workers
to attend meetings designed to persuade them against voting in favor of a union. If a violation takes place or
the employer otherwise interferes and makes a fair election impossible, the NLRB will be empowered to issue
an order that requires the employer to bargain with the union. The bill also prevents employers from
interfering in representation cases, which exist to determine workers’ free choice, not corporations’
preference about how their employees should exercise protected rights.
Strengthening Workers’ Freedom to Join Together and Negotiate for Better Working
In the Supreme Court, in Congress, and in state legislatures, conservative ideologues have attacked workers’ rights
to stand together to improve their working conditions. In response, the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act:
- Enhances workers’ right to support boycotts, strikes, or other acts of solidarity. The bill removes
prohibitions on workers acting in solidarity with workers at other companies. It protects workers who engage
in peaceful protest actions with their fellow workers and. Also, the bill safeguards the right to strike by
clarifying that “intermittent” strikes don’t lose their federal protection and prohibiting companies from
permanently replacing workers who participate in a strike.
- Safeguards workers’ access to justice by overturning Justice Gorsuch’s assault on workers in Epic Systems v.
Lewis. The bill will clarify that employers may not force employees to waive their right to engage in collective
or class-action litigation.
- Ensures unions can collect “fair share” fees. To prevent free-riders from benefitting from the representation
and services unions must render without paying their fair share for those services, this legislation allows
employers and unions to enter into a contract that allows unions to collect fair-share fees that cover the costs
of collective bargaining and administering the agreement.
- Facilitates initial collective bargaining agreements. Even when workers succeed in forming a union, nearly
half of newly formed unions fail to ever reach a contract with the employer. The bill facilitates first contracts
between companies and newly certified unions by requiring mediation and arbitration to settle disputes.
Restoring Fairness to an Economy that is Rigged Against Workers
Too often, greedy employers have exploited labor laws to deprive workers of their pay, benefits, and rights, and
the federal government does too little to ensure the contractors they hire with taxpayer funds are following labor
laws. In response, the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act:
Closes loopholes in the federal labor laws. The bill prevents employers from misclassifying their employees
as supervisors or independent contractors, and prevents workers from being denied remedies due to their
immigration status. It also ensures employees have the right to collectively bargain with all of the companies
that control the terms of their employment and are necessary partners for meaningful collective bargaining.
- Increases transparency in labor-management relations. The bill requires employers to post notices that
inform workers of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, and to disclose contracts with
consultants hired to persuade employees on how to exercise their rights.
- Uses federal purchasing power to protect workers. The bill requires contractors to disclose violations of labor
laws over the previous three years and mandates that federal agencies must consider the contractor’s record
of compliance in awarding contracts valued at more than $500,000.