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Biden task force proposes pro-union organizing rules for federal workers

In a report released Monday, the task force outlined nearly 70 recommendations to boost worker organizing in the federal government.
President Joe Biden speaks before signing an executive order on Project Labor Agreements at Ironworkers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro, Md., Feb. 4, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks Friday before he signs an executive order on project labor agreements in Upper Marlboro, Md.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The White House worker organizing task force has proposed a series of pro-union rules for federal workers after President Joe Biden's pro-union stance faced congressional setbacks in his first year.

The White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, led by Vice President Kamala Harris, released a report Monday outlining nearly 70 recommendations to strengthen workers' organizing rights in the federal government.

"Unions have fought for and helped win many aspects of our work lives many of us take for granted today, like the 40-hour work week and the weekend, as well as landmark programs like Medicare," the report said.

Among its recommendations, the report includes efforts to ensure that federal contract dollars are not spent on anti-union campaigns and to help federal employees understand their rights to organize and bargain collectively, as well as to streamline union access.

"Four agencies — the Department of Labor, the Department of Defense, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services — will act to expand awareness of workers’ organizing rights and employers’ responsibilities when workers are trying to organize," the report said.

Biden has accepted the recommendations, a White House official said, adding that the task force will submit a second report to the president in six months, which will describe progress and include additional proposals.

The task force, vice chaired by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, is made up of more than 20 Cabinet members and heads of other federal agencies.

A group of congressional staffers announced Friday that they plan to organize a union for aides who work in lawmakers’ offices and for committees on Capitol Hill.

As Biden has observed, the report said, "unions built the middle class [and] lift up workers, both union and non-union."

Biden reiterated his pledge to be the most pro-labor president in September. “Labor will always be welcome. You know, you’ve heard me say many times: I intend to be the most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history," he said in honor of unions.

His first year in office coincided with national unrest among workers in industries from entertainment to manufacturing as the nation struggled under the Covid pandemic. Many low-wage workers suffered greatly but made gains by collectively leveraging their positions and challenging their workplace conditions.

Biden, who created the task force last year, has worked to undo rollbacks of worker protections during the Trump era. During the pandemic, he also increased production of personal protective equipment, issued stimulus checks and tax credits, expanded unemployment benefits, prevented furloughs and funded industries such as tourism, airline and rail.

His pro-labor position, however, faced significant congressional setbacks.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which passed the House, has failed to advance in the Senate. The legislation would expand protections for workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively. It would also impose greater penalties for violations of workers rights by employers. It was included in the Build Back Better Act, which also stalled in the Senate.

Biden's $15-an-hour minimum wage was also barred from being included in the American Rescue Plan in the Senate.