To build a strong economic recovery, we need to make it easier for workers to bargain.
Workers want unions because it's the key to better jobs that provide protection and living wages.
Workers across industries are advancing policies to win unions for all workers everywhere in the US.
Mary Kay Henry is the International President of Service Employees International Union.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Tens of thousands of workers are going on strike and bargaining for contracts that ensure they are respected, protected, and paid a living wage. Millions more are quitting their bad bosses and unacceptable working conditions. Amid these trends, the choice for employers and our elected leaders is simple: create good jobs and improve the quality of existing jobs, or risk even greater disruptions to our economic recovery.
How do we create good jobs and improve the quality of existing ones? It starts with revamping our labor laws so that no matter their job or industry, all working people can join together in unions to bargain for a better future.
More unions, more good jobs
There's plenty of evidence, historical and modern, showing that union jobs are better jobs and that they improve public health, drive business and economic growth, and strengthen democracy. The public agrees: unions are more popular than they've been in half a century.
The problem is that it's simply too hard for workers to join a union—unions represent just 6.3% of the private workforce in the U.S. That's why we must prioritize eliminating the systemic barriers workers face in joining unions, from outdated labor laws to rampant union-busting.
The federal government has the power to ensure public dollars support the creation of good jobs with the choice to join a union. The 2 million members of the union I lead, Service Employees International Union, are going all-in to pass the Build Back Better Act because it does just that. The legislation includes the largest-ever investment in our nation's long-term care system, which would fundamentally reshape work for the Black and brown women who make up the majority of the care workforce.
Part of the nation's fastest-growing workforce, home care workers are underpaid, have little to no job protections or benefits, and are largely barred from uniting together to fix their circumstances. It's a legacy of our country's foundational labor laws, which were written to exclude Black and brown women in domestic work from the power and protections of a union.
I've heard too many stories like that of Joyce Barnes, a home care worker in Virginia, who works two jobs a day for six hours each, earning wages around $10/hour with no paid time off or other benefits. Joyce has to fight for a seat at the table through a union to set standards or improve her job.
The Build Back Better Act builds on significant victories home care workers have won through decades of organizing at the state and regional level, and would make life better for all the women who care for our loved ones. It could also be the beginning of a new paradigm in which good union jobs that pay at least $15 an hour are a must for any federal investment.
We can't "build back better" until it's easier for workers to organize and harder for corporations to union bust. A critical piece of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, otherwise known as the PRO Act, would do just that and is featured in the Build Back Better bill: financial penalties for employers who violate workers' right to organize.
Ultimately, though, in order to ensure that all workers have a voice in their future, we need to think even bigger and bolder. Forming unions warehouse by warehouse, restaurant by restaurant, nursing home by nursing home doesn't move us quickly enough toward our vision of unions for all.
Sectoral bargaining — a union model that spans entire industries and supply chains — is what workers need to transform their lives at a level that matches the multiple, overlapping crises we're in. It's a relatively novel concept in the US, but workers with the Fight for $15 and a Union are advancing models for organizing and bargaining across industries that show us a way forward.
Look at New York, where in 2015, after fast-food workers in the city went on strike, workers, industry representatives, and public officials came together under a Wage Board to ensure fast-food wages allowed a life of dignity. Soon after, New York fast-food workers won the first industry-wide $15 minimum wage, and 200,000 people got a much-needed raise.
And right now in California, fast-food workers are demanding lawmakers support the FAST Recovery Act, or AB 257, which would ensure workers have a say in setting industry standards on wages, safety and other key issues by creating a Fast Food Sector Council bringing together corporate representatives, franchisees, government officials and workers at a shared table.
When so many workers are refusing to return to the pre-pandemic status quo of disrespect and lack of accountability from employers, it's a clear sign we need to address the structural flaws in our economy. If we listen to workers' solutions, and allow them to work together with employers and government to improve working conditions, we can transform our economy so it works for all of us — and so we won't face similar disruptions when the next crisis hits.
Read the original article on Business Insider