President Biden made a suitably blunt statement last week in support of the striking Kellogg workers who are at risk of permanent replacement by the grain company, which has decided to ditch its cheerful Frosted Flakes image and play anti-union hardball. Unfortunately, companies need more than a nudge from the president to pave the way for workers, organize unions and negotiate fair wages and worker protection.
For this to happen, the Democrat-led Congress needs a the law for the protection of the right to organize (PRO), a comprehensive package of labor law reforms that would, among other things, prevent employers from dismissing striking workers and replacing them permanently. Already a cross-party majority in the House of Representatives approved the measure in March. But as with so many other vital laws, the filibuster Republicans in the US Senate are now preventing the law from penetrating the chambers. And the Democrats failed to get the majority needed to change the rules against filibusters.
Any filibuster delay in this congress is a nuisance. But U.S. lawmakers’ failure to take up the PRO Act is especially frustrating because it isn’t just widespread among the electorate Elected Biden and put the Democrats in control of the Senate, it is necessary at a time when companies like Amazon and Kellogg’s are trying to use the system to undermine the bargaining rights of the American working class.
Biden recognized the crisis in his message in support of Kellogg employees.
“Collective bargaining is an essential tool to protect workers’ rights, which should be free from threats and intimidation by employers.” declared the Presidentwho was far more willing than his democratic predecessors to join the organized labor force. “That is why I am concerned about reports of Kellogg’s plans to permanently replace striking workers in bakeries, pastry shops, tobacco workers and Grain Millers International during the ongoing collective bargaining process.”
The President’s statement sums it up in the dispute between the grain company and workers who went on strike at four plants since October 5th. While the strike made some progress on wages and benefits, workers voted this month to continue their strike to end a two-tier wage system that pays younger workers less and undermines the bargaining position of all workers in the factories. It was then that The North American President of Kellogg, Chris Hood, announced“The ongoing stoppage leaves us with no choice but to move on to the next phase of our contingency plan, including hiring replacement workers in positions laid off by striking workers.”
This is a threat to the existence of workers who were recognized as “essential” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic but are now a target of displacement. “Permanently replacing workers on strike is an existential assault on the jobs and livelihoods of unions and their members,” noted Biden in his statement on Friday, adding that “such measures undermine the critical role collective bargaining plays in protecting workers Voice and the opportunity to be heard ”. improve their lives and at the same time fully contribute to the success of their employer. ”
The President also stated: “I have long been opposed to the replacement of permanent strikers and I strongly support laws that would prohibit this practice” and that his “relentless support for unions includes support for collective bargaining, and I will aggressively defend both”.
It’s all OK. And certainly encouraging to union members picket lines ahead of the holidays. Biden’s statement is “just what we needed at this point,” said Dan Osborn, President of BCTGM 50G eatery in Omaha, Neb.
However, good words must go hand in hand with good deeds, especially at a time when an unstable and rapidly changing economy has led more Americans to realize that they will need strong unions to shape the future of work. There is no question that support for organized labor is high – with 68 percent approval in the latest Gallup poll, better than ever since the 1960s – and that the unions are flexing their muscles. United Auto Workers members who work at John Deere’s plants went on strike this year, securing what after turning down initial offers from the company the union describes as a “breakthrough contract” that “sets a new standard for workers not just within the UAW but across the country.” And baristas at a Starbucks store in Buffalo just voted to unionize 8,947 state-owned stores.
But the Starbucks vote has been exceptionally controversial, and Workers United members continue to raise the alarm about the tactics of managers who have been trying for months to thwart organizing and bargaining efforts. A manager wrote after the vote, she was “sad” about the result and warned of “the divisive ‘us versus them’ environment that has changed our work environment”. This letter was a reminder that negotiating a fair first contract is likely to be difficult. Although he recognizes the Buffalo vote as “historic”, the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) devices“The company should stop spending money fighting the union and negotiate a fair deal now.”
It doesn’t have to be that hard. If Biden and the Democrats just flipped the filibuster and passed the PRO bill, fundamental barriers to organizing and bargaining would be removed. Under the proposal:
- Employers must stop intimidating and pressuring workers who want to organize a union, as happened earlier this year when Amazon workers in Alabama tried to organize.
- Reorganized unions could use mediation and arbitration to overcome management resistance to negotiating initial contracts, a change that would be critical to Starbucks workers in New York and millions of their kind.
- Employers could not use workers’ immigration status to threaten workers who stand up for their rights.
- Companies that violate the rights of workers would face fines as well as executives and company directors.
- Unions are likely to override what is known as the “right to work,” which originally served to undermine multiracial unions in segregated southern states but has now expanded to include states such as Wisconsin and Michigan.
- Employers would be prevented from locking out, suspending or withholding workers’ work in order to prevent them from going on strike; tell employees that they are independent contractors when they are actually employees; Forcing employees to attend anti-union messaging meetings; changes in working conditions, wages or benefits while negotiating a union contract; Forcing employees to waive their right to collective redress. And of course it would prevent the permanent replacement of striking workers, thus averting the threat to Kellogg workers.
Nearly 60 million Americans would join a union if they had the chance, but too many employers and states are preventing it through anti-union attacks. They know that without unions they can run the table over the workers – unionized as well as non-union.
We should all remember that the National Labor Relations Act doesn’t just say we shouldn’t violate or just tolerate unions. It said we should promote unions. The PRO Act would take critical steps to restore that intent.
Biden’s rhetoric is great. But this requires more than pronouncements from the tyrant’s pulpit. If the president is to protect workers, he has to heat reluctant Democrats like the West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Senator from Arizona Kyrsten cinemawho were both elected with considerable support from the trade unions. Manchin is a co-sponsor of the PRO Act, Sinema is not, but both have refused to accept meaningful filibuster reforms. Until that is the case, Democrats’ talks about supporting union members will not be backed by the protection these workers need.