COVID-19 Reminds Us Why Workers Need Unions

General President Daniel Stepano

On Labor Day 2020, as we honor and celebrate all our movement has done to empower workers to improve their lives, build the American middle class, give workers a voice on the job, advance workplace safety, and give us everything from the eight-hour day to the weekend, we now have another reason why workers need unions: the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute documents that collective bargaining has enabled union members to “secure enhanced safety measures, additional premium pay, paid sick time, and a say in the terms of furloughs or work-share arrangements to save jobs.”

By contrast, many unorganized workers “have been forced to work without protective gear; many have no access to paid sick leave; and when workers have spoken up about health and safety concerns, they have been fired.”

The difference between how union and non-union workers have been impacted by COVID-19 has been made far worse by the Trump Administration’s inexcusable failure to provide basic health, safety and financial protections. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been AWOL.

For these and many other reasons, unions are more popular now than in many decades. In fact, 65 percent of Americans approve of unions and nearly half of unorganized workers say they would join a union if given the chance. What’s stopping them is the pathetic state of labor law, corporations allowed to union-bust with impunity, and anti-worker appointees of President Donald Trump to the federal courts and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

That’s why on this Labor Day, we need to pledge to do everything in our power to make the PRO Act the law of the land.

Passed by the House on February 26th but denied even a hearing by Mitch McConnell’s Senate, the PRO Act would remove many of the most abused obstacles to organizing in bargaining. For example, it would:

  • Impose tough penalties — including personal liability for corporate officials — for violations of the National Labor Relations Act.
  • Provide workers who have been illegally fired or retaliated against for trying to form a union with hard-hitting remedies to seek justice and hold employers accountable.
  • Ban “captive audience” meetings where employers force workers to listen to anti-union myths and propaganda.
  • Smooth the way for workers to achieve an initial collective bargaining agreement in a timely fashion when they first organize.

But here’s the thing: The only way the PRO Act will become law is if we help elect Joe Biden President and Kamala Harris Vice President, flip the Senate so McConnell can no longer be the “grim reaper” who kills all progressive legislation, and keep the House in pro-worker hands.

That’s why this Labor Day — which is also the formal kick-off to the general election — every single OPCMIA member needs to make a plan to vote, and to volunteer their time to elect candidates who stand with our brothers and sisters, rather than greedy corporations.

Together, let’s resolve to take every single step needed to ensure that all workers who want to be empowered through collective bargaining have the opportunity to realize their dreams. The power to win the change we need is in our hands!

Daniel E. Stepano
General President