Bernie Sanders Introduces Bill To Protect Employees Fired For Union Organizing

Alex WongGetty Images

Presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders is looking at a recent wave of teacher strikes across the country to help himself build support for a new law that would protect workers fired for union organization, The Guardian reports. Sanders introduced the Workplace Democracy Act on Wednesday. Fellow 2020 Democratic Primary contenders have shown support for the bill, including Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

A surge of pro-union momentum has indeed been generated by the teachers’ strikes, with union leaders, allies, and advocates pushing for 2019 to be the year where labor law reform is passed.

The bill introduced by Sanders in the Senate would substantially increased penalties for employers who illegally dismiss workers for union organizing. It would also greatly simplify and streamline the process for initiating legal action against such employers.

Today, employers do not pay punitive fines for firing workers for participation in union drives. Instead, they simply pay the difference between what a worker earned in their next job and what they would have made had they kept their job. The result is that in most cases, settlements would only amount to a few thousand dollars, and even then only after litigation dragging on for years.

Union activists are expressing optimism about the prospects of the bill.

“The mood of the country has shifted a lot, look at the teachers’ strike,” said Jean Ross, co-president of the National Nurses United. “There is a belief now that taking to the streets does do some good.”

In 2007, shortly after taking control of the House, Democrats passed the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) with a vote of 241-185. However, that bill died in the Senate, due to a filibuster.

Much like the EFCA, Sanders’s Workplace Democracy Act would allow workers to form unions by simply accumulating a majority of signatures from fellow employees. Today, workers may only form unions after signing a petition for an election and then frequently waiting months before the actual election occurs. During that time, employers often aggressively work to dissuade unionization, threatening workers with substantial consequences.

In addition, the Workplace Democracy Act, again like the EFCA, would compel companies to submit to arbitration if a union and the employer are unable to reach a contract after an initial 90 days of bargaining.

“I think [the teachers’ strikes] are reverberating throughout the country,” said Warren Gunnels, Sanders’s top policy aide. “The American people are looking for big and bold solutions to rebuild a middle class that has been in decline for the last 40 years.”

Going forward, a legislative fix could amount to a game-changer for a number of industries which have so far successfully curtailed unionization.