WORKER EMPOWERMENT AND COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
We cannot achieve economic prosperity if we do not level the playing field between employee and employer. Our society and our government must give equal respect to everyone involved in the economy. With the consolidation of private corporations, however, employees have fewer options.
This growing disparity in economic opportunity is a result of expanding automation, the elimination of full-time jobs in exchange for fewer hours, contracting and a “gig” economy, as well as the decline of unions. Guaranteed jobs and fair wages can combat these developments, but employees should also have a fair share in the management of their own jobs.
Currently, corporate boards make all the key decisions on outsourcing, automation, and contracts with zero input from their employees. With such unchallenged power corporate boards are able to pay CEO’s 300 times the average wages of their employees and benefit their stockholders with no concern for the welfare of their employees and their community.
To ensure a fair say for employees, non-managerial employees, elected by their peers, should make up half the members on corporate boards. Then and only then will employees be able to participate equally in the key decisions that determine how corporations will affect them, their families, and their neighbors.
In Congress, I will fight to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. However, ERA and current legislation alone will not ensure women are paid the same wages as men for the same work. The women most disadvantaged are women of color and low income who are shunted into low-paying jobs where their voices are actively suppressed, sexual harassment remains unchecked, and wages are poverty-level. That is why we need strong workers’ rights so that women have the bargaining power required to challenge inequities in the workplace and hold employers accountable, as well as diversity in leadership so the decisions that determine working conditions, spending, and shareholder investments serve the interests of workers, in particular, women.
Collective bargaining over wages and working conditions is essential to fairness for employees. With elected representatives who unite workers and have the strength to negotiate we can prevent employers from saying “take it or leave it.”
And this will be good for businesses, big and small, because it enhances the purchasing power of employees, allows business to draw upon the creativity, knowledge, and initiative of their employees, and enables employers to be fair to their employees without putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
I will bring to Washington the fight to enact an Employee Bill of Rights that establishes a fair balance between employees and employers. Here are its key points:
1) We must fulfill the true right to work with a public job guarantee, where our government abolishes unemployment by stepping in as employer of last resort to offer full time or part time employment at a fair wage to any adult resident who is willing and able to work, but cannot find a job. These public employments should provide the goods and services that our communities need, but that the private sector is failing to provide. This job guarantee will allow a Green New Deal to implement the quickest elimination of fossil fuel production and consumption without leaving any workers without employment. The job guarantee will also allow a fair immigration reform that will not undermine the economic independence of any U.S. resident.
2) We must abolish poverty wages by instituting a just minimum wage, adjusted upwards with national productivity gains and inflation, so that everyone benefits from our increasing national wealth. This is not a living wage of $15/hr, which is a poverty wage, inviting homelessness, as well as continued growth in income inequality. It is instead a fair minimum, which, if our minimum wage were adjusted in line with inflation and national productivity gains, would start above $20/hr.
3) We must abolish poverty disability and retirement income by providing replacement income for all disabled and retired individuals who cannot work, equivalent to the fair minimum wage.
4) Whereas the above three measures eliminate unemployment and poverty income (as well as the disproportionate unemployment and poverty income of historically oppressed minorities), they do not level the playing field between employee and employer and overcome the progressive disempowerment that employees have suffered with the advance of globalization and the gig economy. We need to advocate two measures to overcome that disempowerment and achieve equity for employees.
a. First, we must require all employers with multiple full-time, part-time, contract, or gig (“zero-hour”, “contingent”) employees, who are not already represented by a union, to hold elections for employee representatives with whom the employer will be required to bargain in good faith.
b. Second, corporations must be required to fill half the seats of their boards of directors with the elected representatives of non-managerial employees. Then all the crucial decisions on outsourcing, automation, selling off of company assets, and salaries and golden parachutes for company executives will no longer be made without fair employee participation.
5) To prevent arbitrary dismissals, we must prohibit all firings and layoffs without cause. Any dismissal must be done with documented grounds that can be contested by some due process remedy.
6) To overcome employer evasion of extending due wages and benefits to all employees, all part-time, contract, and gig economy employees must receive the same wages and pro-rated benefits as full-time employees.
7) To prevent employers depriving employees of their rights to legal redress we must prohibit contracts that require disputes to be settled through binding arbitration. Employers are increasingly using mandatory binding arbitration to prevent employees from defending their interests in court and on the picket line, and this disempowering practice must be curtailed.
8) To prevent employers from obstructing employment opportunity, we must prohibit all non-compete clauses in employment contracts. Employers are using non-compete clauses to deprive their employees of other legitimate work options and intimidate them from asserting their rights on the job.
9) To balance work and family, we must:
a. Prohibit mandatory overtime, which disrupts family life and puts employee health and safety at risk (which almost all developed nations have already done).
b. Guarantee every employee (including full-time, part-time, contract, and gig) paid emergency family leave, paid sick leave, 9 month paid parental leave when a child is born, and 1 month paid vacation.
10) To give employees the genuine opportunity to run for office, employers must be required to let employees go on leave to campaign and to offer them their job back when the election is over. In addition, employees who have gone on unpaid leave to run for office should receive replacement income equal to a fair minimum wage during their campaign.