President-Elect Biden: “the government should encourage the formation of unions”

January 17, 2021 5:00 PM

On January 8, 2021 President-elect Joe Biden announced the nominations for the key members of his economic team, including leadership at the United States Department of Labor. The President-elect committed that under the Biden-Harris administration, our government will not only protect the rights of workers to organize, but actually encourage the formation of unions in an effort to help our economy recover and rebuild our nation’s middle class.

The President-elect’s nominee for United States Secretary of Labor: Marty Walsh

President-elect Biden nominated Boston Mayor and long-time labor leader Marty Walsh to lead the Labor Department. In his remarks about Walsh, Biden said that Walsh understands that “worker power means not just protecting the right to unionize, but encouraging unionization and collective bargaining. The Fair Labor Standards Act of way back didn’t just say you can have unions, it said the government should encourage the formation of unions."

If confirmed, Walsh will be the first union member to head the Department of Labor in almost fifty years. Walsh became a member of the Laborers Union Local 223 in Boston in his early 20s and he served as the local’s president and as the head of the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council for many years before running for public office.

HTC President Rich Maroko was optimistic about Marty Walsh’s nomination: “Marty Walsh knows firsthand how difficult it is to organize and how employers get away with intimidating, threatening, and lying to workers during union organizing drives. I am very hopeful that under this new leadership, our nation will get back to the original intent of our labor laws: to protect workers, run fair union representation elections, and foster the growth of unions.”

President-elect Biden: “The middle class built this country and unions built the middle class”

One of the most powerful moves our federal government can make to address growing income inequality in the United States is to encourage unionization.

In 1935, the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) – the federal law that protects the right of American workers to form unions – was a historic turning point in the lives of American workers. For centuries prior, America’s working class lived in total poverty, risked their lives working in dangerous conditions, and had no rights or power at work. When the NLRA was passed, American workers jumped at the chance to join a union and over the next ten years, the percentage of union workers in America went from 10% to 33% and our nation’s middle class grew exponentially.

However, since the 1950s, union membership in the United States has steadily declined and so has the percentage of Americans in the middle class. Starting in the 1980s, attacks on organized labor accelerated and union density sharply declined when the Reagan administration busted the air traffic controllers’ strike and emboldened employers to take on organized labor. Then, in 2016, President Trump’s election ushered in four years of unmatched attacks on workers, as Trump appointed former union busters to lead the National Labor Relations Board and used the federal agency to relentlessly strip workers of their rights, instead of protect them.

Hope for the American labor movement

With a pro-union administration, the next four years have the potential to radically strengthen the American labor movement, bring the country’s middle class back to life, and make it easier for our Union to organize the non-union hotel industry in New York and New Jersey.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, President-elect Biden laid out detailed plans to encourage unionization including, among other items:

  • Banning captive audience meetings (mandatory meetings held by employers and union busters to persuade workers to vote no for the union),
  • Returning to rules implemented under President Obama that allow for union elections to be held more quickly (and in turn, limit the amount of time that employers can campaign against the union) and codifying them into law,
  • Implementing stronger punishments for employers and executives that violate labor laws,
  • Expanding the rights of workers to strike for good contracts

Our Union has won many difficult and drawn out organizing drives in the face of vicious anti-union campaigns. Together the policies being proposed by the President-elect would make it safer, faster, and less terrifying for non-union workers to organize. These changes would not only benefit non-union workers, but would allow us to increase our Union’s density (the percentage of hotel rooms in the region that are in union hotels) and in turn, our leverage during contract negotiations. As many of our members know, our high union density equals bargaining power. It is no coincidence that New York City is the hotel market with the highest union density in the country and, at the same time, has the highest-paid hotel workers anywhere in the world.

Watch President-elect Biden’s remarks: