Warren Unveils Labor Plan to Vastly Expand Workers’ Rights

PALO ALTO, Calif. (Bloomberg News/TNS) -

Elizabeth Warren unveiled a sweeping pro-labor plan on Thursday that would bolster workers’ ability to organize, bargain collectively and strike, as she and other Democratic presidential candidates vie for the support of organized labor.

The Massachusetts senator released her proposal before she was to appear at a forum in Los Angeles being hosted Friday and Saturday by the Service Employees International Union, the second-largest U.S. union.

Joe Biden will also participate, but Bernie Sanders, Warren’s chief rival for the progressive mantle, was forced to cancel campaign appearances after undergoing treatment for a blocked artery.

For Warren, who recently edged out Biden as the front-runner in some polls, the labor backing would provide a major source of votes, funds and ground troops.

While a handful of unions have already issued endorsements — including the 15,000-member California-based National Union of Healthcare Workers, which last month jointly endorsed Warren and Sanders — the biggest ones are so far holding off picking favorites among the large and unsettled field.

Warren’s proposal covers a wish list of long-sought labor demands, including curbing states’ and companies’ power to stymie unions.

She provided little new detail about how union members would be affected by “Medicare for All,” the proposal for a government-run health care system that both she and Sanders have made a centerpiece of their campaigns.

That plan would effectively end private insurance, a change that rivals, including Biden. have argued would deprive union members of hard-won employer-provided benefits. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters in July that “while we would like to see universal health care, we want to make sure that there is a role for employer-bargained plans in that plan.”

In her labor proposal, Warren said that Medicare For All would replace a status quo in which escalating insurance costs make it harder for unions to secure progress on other issues, like pay. She vowed to “work closely with unions and multi-employer health insurance funds to protect the gains they have made,” though she didn’t detail how that would work.

Warren’s plan would extend labor rights to excluded workers, including many farm workers, domestic workers, gig workers, and more state government employees and some of those classified as supervisors. It would strengthen union leverage by lifting decades-old restrictions on protests and boycotts and by letting employees sue companies over labor violations rather than just going to the National Labor Relations Board.

It would also require companies to recognize unions once the majority of workers sign cards, prohibit them from forcing employees to give up their right to sue, and curb their ability to “lock out” staff.

“We cannot have a truly democratic society with so little power in the hands of working people,” Warren said. “We cannot have sustained and inclusive economic growth without a stronger labor movement. That’s why returning power to working people will be the overarching goal of my presidency.”

Her plan would reverse many of the changes pursued by the Trump administration, including those regarding the rights of sub-contracted staff, home health care workers and federal employees.

But her proposal would also go far beyond restoring the Obama administration status quo. It includes legislation previously introduced by Warren that would ban state “right-to-work” laws; require the largest corporations to let workers elect 40% of their board members; and mandate that companies provide workers their schedules two weeks in advance.

Warren also pledges to bring a pro-worker approach to antitrust policy, prohibiting “non-compete” clauses and “no-poach” pacts that restrict workers’ mobility, while amending the law to ensure that workers who are deemed contractors can organize without being accused of price-fixing.

Biden has yet to release his labor plan, but Warren’s proposal, and one released by Sanders in August, includes several of the planks that the SEIU has been advocating to candidates seeking its endorsement, like the establishment of industrywide bargaining rather than company-by-company contract talks.

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry praised the Warren plan, saying it “would overhaul America’s broken labor laws and empower workers to organize millions at a time, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to join a union no matter where they work.”