Harris announced new measures aimed at boosting union membership among federal workers on Wednesday
Vice President Kamala Harris is announcing measures aimed at making it easier for unions to organize the country’s more than 2 million federal workers.
She and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke ahead of a Zoom roundtable event on collective bargaining featuring workers representing several US government agencies.
The event occurred against the backdrop of a nationwide labor movement that includes massive strikes and historic numbers of people – 4.3 million in August – leaving their jobs.
Harris and Walsh were joined at the event by Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Kiran Ahuja.
The moves will include directing federal agencies to inform job applicants and new employees about unions during the hiring and onboarding process, Harris said.
Unions will also be allowed to participate in new employee training sessions, a source told Reuters.
The vice president added that federal agencies will be required to enhance their communications to current employees and inform them about their right to join a union and the ways they can engage with their union.
‘We have folks who have been working in the federal government for years, who during the course of that time may not have been informed,’ Harris told reporters.
Currently only 20 percent of federal employees belong to a union.
Harris and Walsh, who are spearheading a White House labor task force established by Democratic President Joe Biden earlier this year, are unveiling the effort during their Wednesday roundtable session.
‘All of this is just part of our broader strategy to make the federal government a model employer, and we call on all employers to make similar steps in doing the work of protecting workers,’ Harris said.
Harris was joined by workers from several government agencies and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh
The federal government is the largest employer in the country.
Walsh said the Biden administration was the most ‘pro-union and ‘pro-worker’ of his lifetime.
The labor movement traditionally has been a key pillar of the Democratic Party’s coalition and a major player on the U.S. political stage, but its pull has waned in recent decades.
The percentage of U.S. workers represented by a union fell almost 15 percentage points between 1979 and 2020, according to the White House. That drop, the White House says, has cost workers $200 billion a year in unrealized wages and benefits.
The new measures will affect 2.1 million non-postal federal employees and be overseen by the OPM, which is an independent federal agency.
The White House labor task force is expected to submit a report to Biden on Saturday.
Meanwhile thousands of workers across multiple industries have at least considered strikes against the massive companies that employ them.
Last week more than 10,000 employees of John Deere staged the first major walkout the farm equipment giant has seen in more than 30 years.
Worker were angered that Deere CEO John May, who earned nearly $16 million in his first year in the role last year, makes 220 times more than the median company salary of $70,743.
They picketed at several of the company’s plants in a bid to leverage the tight labor market in order to get higher wages. Deere & Co. has forecast a net income by the end of the year of nearly $6 billion.
Earlier this month more than 1,400 Kellogg’s cereal company workers across Nebraska, Tennessee, Michigan and Pennsylvania went on strike after a dispute over wages, benefits and work hours failed to reach an agreement.
That strike is still ongoing.
Members of the United Auto Workers strike outside of the John Deere Engine Works plant on Ridgeway Avenue in Waterloo, Iowa on October 15
A 1,400-worker strike against cereal giant Kellogg’s is still ongoing
Kellogg’s workers across Nebraska, Tennessee, Michigan and Pennsylvania went on strike after a dispute over wages, benefits and work hours failed to reach an agreement
In California, Hawaii and Oregon, unions representing Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers have authorized a massive strike if an agreement on employee raises benefits and staffing shortages isn’t reached.
The negotiations are between Kaiser and the Alliance of Health Care Unions, which represents more than 20 unions covering more than 50,000 Kaiser workers nationwide.
Workers at Nabisco plants in five states went on strike in August to protest plans by Nabisco´s parent, Mondelez International, to move some work to Mexico, among other issues, according to the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which also represents the Kellogg’s workers.
That strike ended last month when workers ratified a new contract.
Just this past weekend, Hollywood averted a major strike when the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) said negotiators agreed to a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) hours before the union’s 12.01 am Monday deadline.
IATSE represents about 60,000 off-screen film and television workers.
Experts have at least in part attributed the massive movements to a trend dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’ after August’s record number of people leaving their jobs.
The departure was equivalent to nearly 3 percent of the entire US workforce voluntarily quitting.
The new data show that the number of open jobs in the country continues to exceed the number of people seeking work, increasing the bargaining power of workers and giving them more confidence to quit unpleasant jobs.