How is Labor Faring?
The 2020 Presidential Election is just weeks away. Never has your vote been more important. Why? Because the progress unions have made over the last decades to build a strong middle class and enable working people to retire in dignity is systematically being whittled away. Let’s take a hard look at how the working men and women of the United States have fared in the last few years.
UNION ELECTIONS — Harder than ever
Over the past four years, a series of decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has systematically diminished the ability of unions to hold elections. The majority of board members are corporate lawyers who have dedicated their careers to fighting against workers’ rights.
Since the 2016 election, there have been several devastating anti-labor appointees to the NLRB, the government agency that enforces labor law as it relates to collective bargaining and unfair labor practice charges, such as the 2017 appointment of William Emanuel, a labor lawyer at the notorious anti-worker law firm Littler Mendelson.
- Weakening rules aimed at making the union representation election process timelier and more efficient and adopting rules that put roadblocks in the way of workers forming unions. For example: allowing employers to designate bargaining units in a way that makes it more difficult to organize and making it easier for employers to retaliate when workers strike or protest over safety conditions by narrowing the definition of “protected concerted activity.”
- Making it harder for workers hired by staffing agencies to form a union.
- Stripping academic workers at private universities of the right to join together and collectively bargain.
- Stripping rights from platform-based drivers for Uber and Lyft by deeming that they are not employees.
- Giving employers more power to prevent union organizers and off-duty employees from talking with employees at the workplace, during non-work time, about forming a union.
- Temporarily suspending all union elections, including mail ballot elections, between March 19 and March 31, 2020, and then allowing mail ballot elections only if the employer agreed to that arrangement.
Legislation to Advance Workers Rights
- On February 6, 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would significantly restore workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively. However, the Senate has failed to even allow a vote, let alone, pass the PRO Act. The UAW endorsed the PRO Act.
COVID RESPONSE – U.S. leads the world in cases and deaths
America is experiencing an unprecedented dual economic and public health care crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Key facts:
- The U.S. is only 4% of the world’s population, yet we have 22% of the world’s deaths.
- The U.S. now leads the world in COVID cases and deaths, with more than 7 million cases and more than 204,000 deaths.
- In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was forced to cut 80% of its programs to prevent global disease. Congress provided other funding, but the CDC was forced to scale back the work it did in other countries going from working in 49 countries to just 10. Significantly, China was one of the countries cut from the list.
- Over the past 2.5 years
- The entire global-health-security unit of the National Security Council was shut down. This unit is primarily charged with combating flu pandemics.
- The U.S. federal government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated. This fund provided much needed aid to prevent and respond to emerging and unforeseen crises.
Legislative Response to Pandemic
- The HEROES Act passed by the House in May 2020 included federal unemployment benefits to help millions of Americans out of work due to the pandemic; an OSHA emergency temporary standard to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19; aid to state and local governments facing budget shortfalls due to COVID-19; and COBRA subsidies to help laid-off workers maintain their employer-provided health care coverage during a global pandemic. To date, the Senate has failed to advance the House passed HEROES Act. The UAW endorsed the HEROES Act.
SOCIAL SECURITY AND RETIREMENT UNDER SEIGE
The UAW firmly believes that all Americans deserve a dignified and secure retirement supported by an employer-provided defined benefit retirement plan, personal savings and Social Security.
- An executive order in August suspended the primary funding source for Social Security. The executive order allows employers to defer withholding and paying the 6.2% employee share of the Social Security payroll tax for workers making less than $2,000 per week. The effect of the tax deferral does not help working people. It increases the disposable income of higher earners, does nothing for unemployed workers and potentially endangers the survival of Social Security.
- Federal worker pensions have been targeted to offset deficit-inflating tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans.
HEALTH CARE JEOPARDIZED
According to the Economic Policy Institute, 6.2 million workers lost employer-sponsored health insurance between February and July 2020, while 12 million people (including spouses and dependents) lost coverage.
- Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of uninsured Americans rose by 2.3 million from 2016 to 2019, including 726,000 children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A separate survey by The Commonwealth Fund found similar results: Of those who lost job-based coverage, 1 in 5 reported that they or their spouse or partner did not have any insurance coverage.
- With millions of workers losing their employer-sponsored insurance due to COVID-19, the current administration has persisted in its efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and rejected a special ACA special enrollment period to allow the uninsured sign up for health insurance. Nothing was done to make it easier for those who had lost their insurance to adopt coverage under the ACA marketplace.
- Republicans in Congress have attempted to eliminate,weaken or repeal the ACA more than 100 times, which would result in 20 million Americans losing their health insurance and 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions stripped of their protections.
PRESCRIPTION DRUG COSTS THROUGH THE ROOF
To fight the rising costs of prescription drugs, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3) was introduced to establish a fair price negotiation program, protect Medicare program excessive price increases, and establish an out-of-pocket maximum in some plans. It limits the outrageous prices charged by the powerful pharmaceutical corporations and allows Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate the high cost of medicines, including insulin. The legislation is stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
- Right now, Americans pay more for prescription drugs than any similar countries around the world. Americans pay on average nearly four times more for drugs than other countries – in some cases, 67 times more for the same drug.
- In 2018, nearly 28 million Americans watched the cost of their medications rise while pharmaceutical companies benefited from huge tax breaks.
- Drug companies have raised prices on 245 medicines by an average of 23.8 percent during the pandemic, including those commonly used in intensive care units, lifesaving cancer drugs, blood pressure medications and some that are being used to treat COVID-19 or are being tested for use to combat the illness, according to a report from Patients for Affordable Drugs.
TRADE AND JOBS OFFSHORING – MUCH MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE
- U.S. manufacturing started a decline in late 2018, well before the COVID-19 crisis. More than 300,000 American jobs have been lost to offshoring and trade since 2017, as certified by the U.S. Labor Department. The Economic Policy Institute says total trade job loss is much higher — estimating 700,000 jobs lost to China in 2017 and 2018 alone.
- We’ve seen 740,000 manufacturing jobs disappear since February 2020.
- The 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act (TCJA) created new, powerful incentives to offshore jobs with the corporate tax rate favorable to corporations sending jobs overseas.
- The United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) is not a “fix” for the many problems created by NAFTA. Experts say:
- USMCA will create just 51,000 new jobs in manufacturing, mining and farming over the next six years, according to an analysis by the U.S. International Trade Commission. This is significantly less than the estimated 850,000 jobs lost due to NAFTA (350,000 from the auto industry).
- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts actual losses in the auto sector.
JOB SECURITY THREATENED
- In auto manufacturing, it is not unusual to find that 40% or more of the workforce is employed by a temporary agency.
- Not only do employers fill many positions that were once good-paying jobs with temps, temporary workers have no voice on the job, don’t benefit from collective bargaining, have few or no rights at work and no job protection.
- Although before the COVID-19 induced recession, the economy was “expanding”, real wage growth has not kept pace with worker productivity. According to the Economic Policy Institute, since 1979 worker productivity has grown six times more than pay growth, and union density is just 6.5% in the private sector and 10.7% overall.
THE COURTS ASSAULT ON WORKERS RIGHTS
- In the past few years, two new anti-labor justices have been confirmed to the U.S. the Supreme Court with the appointments of Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and three precedent-setting Supreme Court decisions have weakened workers’ ability to collectively bargain and to hold corporations accountable for unfair labor practices.
- In the last several years alone, the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, has weakened collective bargaining rights for public sector workers (Janus v. AFSCME) and retiree health care (CNH v. Reese). The CNH vs. Reese decision allowed employers to take away health care from UAW retirees that they had agreed to at the bargaining table.
- In November, the Court will again decide whether to uphold the ACA. If overturned, protections for 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions would be stripped away and tens of millions could lose coverage and protections from unfair practices by insurance companies.
- Additionally, anti-labor judges are being appointed to lower federal courts across the country at an alarming rate — all of whom have lifetime appointments to make critical decisions affecting the lives of the American people. The Senate has confirmed a record 210 judges as of September 29, 2020.
- Federal judges who are anti-labor are being confirmed in the Senate at a breakneck speed.
Your very right to vote in this election and every future election is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is a fundamental right of our democracy. The pandemic has caused concern about going to the polls, but you can make your voice heard by early voting, mail-in voting and absentee voting, which is proven to be safe, secure and easy. The UAW is encouraging our members to vote by mail and vote early.
Make your voice heard in this November’s election.
“VOTE” image By Tom Arthur from Orange, CA, United States (vote for better tape Uploaded by Petronas) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons