Agencies act to remove barriers to worker organizing, create good-paying union jobs, and the number of Federal Government employees in a union increases by nearly 20%
A guiding principle of the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment is the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to worker rights, including the right to a free and fair choice to join a union and to dignity in the workplace. As the President says, “unions built the middle class,” and as we now rebuild America they can help rebuild the middle class in the process. The Task Force, led by Vice President Kamala Harris, submitted over 70 recommendations to the President for tools Executive Branch agencies could use with existing Executive Branch powers, procedures, and practices, in order to reduce barriers to worker organizing and position the federal government as a model employer. President Biden approved all of the recommendations in February 2022.
In March 2023, the Task Force announced that agencies have advanced the Task Force recommendations actions with significant results both inside and outside government, including:
- Ensuring that federal grant funding has strong, job quality standards, where possible, including in Department of Energy funding for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL);
- Providing information, in plain language, about a worker’s organizing rights, through a “Know Your Rights” effort involving multiple agencies, including by creating materials helpful to young workers in previously unorganized industries and small businesses, as well as a series of actions to ensure that all eligible federal employees know of their rights to join a union; and
- Removing impediments to exercising worker rights on federal property and federally controlled spaces, including action taken by the Department of Homeland Security to facilitate access for organizers at airports.
As a result of this work, the Task Force is proud to announce that the number of Federal Government employees in a union has increased by nearly 20%. Since the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) began working with agencies to better inform federal workers of their right to join a union, nearly 80,000 workers have done so.
While the Task Force has been focused on its work within the Executive Branch, the country has seen significant momentum in worker organizing, spread across multiple industries, including in industries with a history of low union density, such as digital programming and testing, and previously unorganized retail. This organizing momentum reflects the timely nature of the Task Force’s work as a new generation of workers – many without any previous exposure to collective bargaining – make their voices heard.
This growth in organizing is noteworthy: In fiscal year 2022, petitions for union representation increased 53% over the year before, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, overall union membership grew by 273,000 in 2022 – growth that reflects the increased public support for unions, which at 71% is at its highest level in 60 years.
Tracking the Implementation of Task Force Action Items
Several accomplishments merit special mention, including:
Ensuring that federal grant funding has strong, job quality standards, where possible
Following the significant investments through our Invest in America agenda – specifically through the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act -agencies have worked to ensure that the jobs created or supported by these federal funds are quality jobs that allow workers the free and fair choice to form or join a union, consistent with law. These actions will help ensure that as we rebuild our infrastructure, supply chains, and manufacturing here at home, we will also be building strong communities with pathways into family sustaining jobs. For example, agencies have included requirements or preferences to encourage registered apprenticeships, project labor agreements, and other measures in investments as diverse as battery materials manufacturing, broadband installation, mega-infrastructure projects, and clean buses. These include:
- Department of Commerce: Inclusion of strong labor standards language in more than $42 billion in grants to expand high-speed internet nationwide.
- Department of Energy: Requiring applicants to submit “Community Benefit Plans” as part of all agency Federal financial awards through BIL and IRA and encouraging engagement with labor unions and use of project labor agreements (PLAs), and ensuring a free and fair choice to join or form a union in potential grants and contracts consistent with agency’s statutory authorities.
- Department of Transportation: Inclusion of additional evaluation criteria in grants and contracts through BIL for project proposals that will create jobs with the free and fair choice to join a union, project labor agreements, registered apprenticeships, and joint labor-management training programs.
Providing information in plain language about a worker’s organizing rights, through a major “Know Your Rights” effort involving multiple agencies
Research shows that while millions of workers would start or join a union at their workplace if given the opportunity to do so, only a small percentage – 10 percent – of these workers have information about how to do so. Closing this gap by providing information on organizing and bargaining rights is a priority for several Task Force agencies. These agencies are collaborating to better ensure that workers know their rights. For example, the Department of Labor (DOL) is leading a “Know Your Rights” campaign, developing and distributing materials on workers’ organizing and bargaining rights. This includes:
- Creating the Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge (WORK) Center, a one-stop shop for workers, employers, and government agencies that DOL developed in collaboration with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), where workers and employers can learn about the union advantage and examples of successful organizing and labor-management partnerships.
- Updating www.worker.gov, a plain-language website with information on major worker protection laws, with expanded information on anti-retaliation protections for workers exercising their rights under these laws.
Removing impediments to worker rights on federal property
Often, private sector workers who work on federal property or in a federal building face additional and unnecessary barriers to organizing. Four Task Force agencies – the Departments of Defense and Interior, the General Services Administration, and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) – committed to securely and safely make it easier for union representatives to reach potential or current union members to discuss their rights. A fifth agency – the Department of Homeland Security – has since taken action to facilitate access at airports through the work of the Transportation Security Administration. These actions will make it possible for more workers to talk with and hear from union organizers at their workplaces – a significant step in addressing the imbalance of information that exists under current law.
New and strengthened collaborations between agencies
Since last year, the Task Force has worked to facilitate new collaborations between agencies that have not previously worked together to promote workers’ rights. Examples include:
Good Jobs Principles
The Department of Labor launched the Good Jobs Initiative, which works with federal agencies to provide technical assistance on grants, contracts, and other investments designed to improve job quality. The Good Jobs Initiative and the Departments of Commerce developed “Good Jobs Principles,” defining the elements of good jobs, including the free and fair chance to form or join a union. The Labor Department has used these principles to help federal agency partners incentivize equity and good jobs, including those with worker voice, with more than $97 billion dollars of grant funding.
Helping workers and employers reach a first agreement
The NLRB, FMCS, and the FLRA are collaborating on efforts to help the parties reach an initial collective bargaining agreement when workers first organize. The agencies have improved the flow of information between their agencies about newly-organized units; expanded outreach to the parties encouraging the use of their agencies’ training and mediation services; and updated and expanded training (including cross-training) of agency mediators.
Bringing sunlight to employer intimidation campaigns
The NLRB is sharing information with the Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS) at the Department of Labor so that OLMS can communicate to employers about the legal requirement to file public reports of employer and third-party consultant “persuader” activity aimed at persuading employees about unionization. Data shows that there likely is significant underreporting of persuader activity – in FY 2021, only 166 employer persuader reports were filed, out of 1,125 representation elections conducted by the NLRB. This inter-agency collaboration will increase awareness and compliance with the persuader reporting requirements and result in greater transparency.
The federal government as model employer – success in the Federal sector
For federal sector workers, OPM implemented ten strategies agencies are using to support worker organizing and bargaining in the federal sector. Since the initial strategies were announced, OPM developed a survey tool to comprehensively track agency progress on implementing the strategies, and sent the survey to relevant agencies in January 2023. Initial reports show significant progress. OPM reports nearly 80,000 new union members in the Federal sector since the Task Force actions were implemented.
Continuing the Work of the Task Force
The Task Force agencies have made significant progress removing barriers to worker organizing and empowerment. The Task Force will continue to work with agencies to implement the recommendations and to look for opportunities to expand the reach of their work through collaboration with other agencies. The Task Force will also continue its role as a forum to hear from workers, organizers, employers, and other economic stakeholders about ways to reduce the barriers to collective bargaining and worker empowerment.
Workers are more interested in organizing unions now than they have been in decades, and the Task Force will continue to provide a powerful platform for the Biden-Harris Administration to meet this moment of worker empowerment.
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