Rosa DeLauro: The Labor Day secret to get workers a raise
Working people need a well-deserved pay raise. Last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real wages fell by 0.2 percent. To help, the Congress must empower an employee’s right to organize and bargain collectively.
That is because over the last several decades, Republicans and their corporate lobbyists have colluded to undermine that right, and the power of unions, in order to lower wages and salaries and to boost corporate profits. For example, President Trump’s Department of Labor has undermined health and safety standards and dismantled initiatives to update overtime pay and provide for equal pay for women.
No surprise then that over the last 30 years, incomes have stagnated or shrunk. And as a result, Americans are struggling: forty percent had trouble paying for a basic need, like housing or health care, according to a new study by the Urban Institute.
These overlapping trends are not a coincidence. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “One of the main causes of stagnant wages and rising wage inequality is the decline of collective bargaining which has lowered the wages of both union and nonunion workers.”
So to raise incomes, we need to stop the Trump Administration’s attacks on unions and the fundamental rights of working people. That fight is underway. On Aug. 25, a federal judge declared a series of the president’s attacks on unions for federal workers to be unconstitutional.
We must also advance forward-looking solutions to empower employees and level the playing field.
First, we should help working people secure a fairer share of the value they produce by empowering them to join unions and bargain collectively with employers. That includes updating labor law, beefing up remedies for workers whose employer violates the law and strengthening workers’ rights under the law-including the right to strike.
Second, we need to fight “misclassification.” Employers, especially in the so-called “gig” economy, try to minimize their relationship with their employees in order to shirk their legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace and fair wage. They do so by misclassifying their employees as “independent contractors.” To combat these corporate ploys, we must pass The Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act, a comprehensive proposal that restores fairness to the economy by strengthening the federal laws that protect workers’ freedom to stand together.
Third, it is time to experiment with different kinds of collective bargaining. To help working people get fair pay, we should support the establishment of wage boards and target industry-level bargaining. Wage boards gather testimony and information from all stakeholders to set fair wages in an industry or geography. New York City fast-food workers gained a $15 an hour wage through a wage board.
When unions are strong, the middle class is strong. So, let us once again empower a worker’s right to organize and bargain collectively. It is the best way for us to celebrate Labor Day — to be fighting for working people.