Labor sees bright future with Biden…with a few caveats

Stephon Johnson | 11/12/2020, midnight
Labor unions around the country saw some light amid the darkness when President-Elect Joe Biden beat current President Donald Trump ...
32BJSEIU members Contributed

Labor unions around the country saw some light amid the darkness when President-Elect Joe Biden beat current President Donald Trump in the election. Union leaders now want to fast forward to Inauguration Day so they can get the ball rolling making unions great again.

One union believes Biden’s appointees will not only roll back the Trump administration’s policies, but improve on what was in place before Trump was elected.

“Joe Biden is the most pro-union president we have had in decades,” said Communications Workers of America Spokesperson Beth Allen in an emailed statement. “He knows that to rebuild the middle class, workers need to be free to join unions, and he will actively encourage people to do so.

“While we need a Senate Democratic majority to pass legislation like the PRO Act to remove barriers to union membership and strengthen the right to strike, there is a lot he can do through the executive branch to support union membership,” continued Allen.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would include protecting the ability for unions to strike and would give them more bargaining power on the job.

Biden has his work cut out for him on the labor front. Much of it could be devoted to undoing any damage caused by Trump rolling back regulation. National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Peter Robb banned unions from bargaining for COVID-19 safety and killed mandates put in place by former president Barack Obama that accelerated the process of organizing elections. Robb was originally known for firing air-traffic controllers who went on strike during Ronald Regan’s first term.

New York State United Teachers President Andrew Pallotta said the election might be over, but labor’s work isn’t done.

“We have worked hard this election season to make sure every vote is counted and every voice is heard because we believe a Biden administration will be a partner the labor movement, educators, and health care professionals can work with to advance policies that benefit hardworking women and men and the public education and health care systems they rely on,” said Pallotta in a statement. “We continue to closely monitor Senate races but firmly believe that when it comes to governing, Republican and Democratic officials alike must come together to provide the funding needed to stave off deep cuts to public services in New York and empower the working families who have been hit hard by this pandemic.”

Before Election Day the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Washington State Nurses Association, and the United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals sued U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for delaying making rules on occupational standards to protect healthcare and frontline workers from diseases transmitted by contact, droplets or air. These include influenza, Ebola and COVID-19. AFT President Randi Weingarten said that it’s another example of the Trump administration standing in the way of labor rights.

“OSHA has failed to regulate employers, which in turn have failed to protect the people caring for COVID-19 patients,” said Weingarten in a statement. “As a result, healthcare worker infection rates remain troublingly high. This immoral treatment of the healthcare heroes carrying us through this crisis must end, and both OSHA and employers must be held accountable to make hospitals safe for the people who work there.”

The Trump administration also played defense against installing an Infectious Diseases Standard, not moving forward despite the current global pandemic. The parties involved in the suit claim that the administration’s actions violate the Administrative Procedure Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

This is why, as 32BJ President Kyle Bragg stated, that labor and health go hand in hand.

“We want to see the Biden administration that makes it easier for workers to join a union and to expand health care for all,” stated Bragg. “As climate change continues to ravage Black and Brown communities, we will demand that the Biden administration takes proactive measures to make sure our air and water are clean and that environmental racism does not put our communities at risk.”

Retail Whole and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum said that he’s optimistic about a Biden presidency. He believes the new administration will be kind to unions and pointed to Biden’s rhetoric during his campaign.

“...We finally have someone in the White House who understands the needs of working people and has shown throughout his life the ability to support them,” said Appelbaum. “Someone who understands that the NLRB should be protecting workers’ right to organize and not try to curtail that. We have a president who understands that OSHA has been missing in action for the last four years.”

Labor unions looked to maximize voter turnout for President-Elect Biden and helped deliver his victory. As of Tuesday, Biden had 279 electoral votes to Trump’s 214. Biden also beat Trump in the popular vote with 76.4 million Americans casting ballots for him and 71.7 million going to Trump. Despite Trump’s current attempts to subvert the results of the election, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said labor has Biden’s back and is ready to fight on his behalf.

“Now the AFL-CIO stands ready to help the president-elect and vice president-elect deliver a long overdue workers’ first agenda,” said Trumka. “That starts with passing the HEROES Act to provide our families and communities emergency support and services in the face of this deadly virus.

“But COVID-19 relief is just that—relief,” said Trumka.

But left-leaning America isn’t out of the woods yet. If Trump’s challenge to election results doesn’t succeed, there are two runoff elections for Senate seats happening in Georgia this December. Control of the U.S. Senate hangs on these two elections. A GOP-controlled Senate, with Mitch McConnell retaining his majority leader position, could stall any progress by President-Elect Joe Biden. But Appelbaum isn’t worried.

“A Republican-controlled Senate is going to make things much more difficult but as we have seen, the president has some regulatory power and there’s a lot that he’s still going to be able to do even with a Senate that’s not supporting him,” said Appelbaum. The first thing Biden needs to do is undo the damage of the Donald Trump administration.”