As worker actions continue nationwide, White House highlights how administration is helping unions
Aug 28, 2023, 11:44 AM | Updated: 11:56 am
WASHINGTON (AP) — As worker actions continue from Hollywood to Detroit, and new labor unions crop up at firms like Starbucks and Amazon, the White House on Monday was highlighting its effort to bolster worker organizing throughout the U.S.
President Joe Biden is counting on critical labor support as he campaigns for a second term in office, holding his first re-election campaign rally at a Pennsylvania union hall in June, declaring: “I’m proud to be the most pro-union president in American history.” The White House and Treasury on Monday issued a joint analysis on what the administration sees as the importance of unions, and also the White House efforts to safeguard and bolster them.
There is “evidence that unions strengthen the middle class and grow the economy” by raising wages of members and improving health care, retirement and predictable scheduling plan benefits, according to the analysis.
“There have been recent signs of a reinvigorated labor movement, as union election petitions in 2022 bounced back from the pandemic to their highest level since 2015,” the analysis says “and public opinion of labor unions is at its highest level in over 50 years.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, who leads the White House Labor Task Force, created to work with federal agencies to use their existing authority to support labor organizing and bargaining, told reporters unions were critically important.
“When union workers bargain for higher pay, it increases pressure on non-union companies to raise pay as well to stay competitive in the labor market,” she said.
The administration’s show of support comes as unprecedented worker organizing — from strike authorizations to work stoppages — hit multiple industries this year, including, transportation, entertainment, hospitality and healthcare.
Workers calling for higher wages, better working conditions and job security, especially since the end of the pandemic, have been increasingly willing to walk out on the job as employers face a greater need for workers.
The Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations Labor Action Tracker logged 424 work stoppages — which includes 417 strikes and seven lockouts — involving approximately 224,000 workers in 2022.
Despite the coverage of strikes and an administration that claims it is friendlier to unions, membership numbers are still waning nationally. A January BLS report states that 11.3 percent of U.S. workers were represented by a union in 2022, down by 0.3 percent from a year ago. Globalization, automation and the deterioration of legal support to workers over decades has brought down union participation numbers, administration officials said.
Hollywood writers have been striking since early May and have not yet made a deal with the studios. Starbucks workers have unionized at more than 350 stores across the country and a collection of Amazon workers have joined the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, in hopes of gaining union recognition.
Most recently, auto workers represented by the United Auto Workers union— which still has not endorsed Biden’s 2024 presidential run — voted overwhelmingly to give leaders the authority to call strikes against Detroit car companies Stellantis, General Motors and Ford if a contract agreement isn’t reached.
The contract is set to expire in September.
Since Biden took office, the administration has implemented a slew of executive orders, made it easier for union representatives to organize on federal property, and strengthened retaliation protections for private sector workers.
The nation’s top labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, have endorsed Biden’s 2024 campaign.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the administration’s findings on unions “challenge arguments that unions hold back growth.”
“Unions could contribute to reversing the stark increase in inequality we’ve seen in recent decades, promoting economy-wide growth,” she said.