Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a plan Thursday that would “pursue the most progressive and comprehensive agenda for workers since the New Deal” by raising wages and extending labor rights to all workers.
What would the plan do?
Warren’s proposal would extend federal labor and worker safety protections to farm and domestic workers, who are not covered by federal labor laws; bolster collective bargaining rights; increase the hourly minimum wage; and extend overtime eligibility to more workers. Much of her plan describes legislative proposals that she and other Democrats have introduced already in Congress; other parts would go further.
Warren's plan would permit the National Labor Relations Board — the quasi-judicial agency charged with protecting workers’ union rights — to impose monetary fines on employers that violate the National Labor Relations Act. (Right now, the NLRB may collect only back pay for workers.) It would also allow the NLRB to compel an employer to bargain with a union absent a union election when the employer has violated the law.
The Massachusetts senator’s plan includes many components of H.R. 2474 (116), the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a bill she would urge lawmakers to pass. These include imposing restrictions on employers' ability to interfere in union elections and prohibiting state “right to work” laws (i.e., laws that prohibit unions from collecting mandatory fees from non-members to cover their share of collective bargaining costs).
The senator calls for establishing a broad “joint employer standard” under federal labor and wage laws that would make it easier to hold businesses — particularly large chains — legally responsible for labor and wage violations committed by their franchisees and contractors.
She would allow workers to form a union through “card check” (that is, the informal collection of authorization forms) rather than a secret-ballot election overseen by the NLRB. Under current law, workers must secure management's consent to create a union through card check. Warren would target the misclassification of employees as independent contractors by pushing lawmakers to enact a test similar to one imposed in California under a 2018 state supreme court decision that was recently codified into law by the California state legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom.
As president, she would repeal three Trump administration executive orders that significantly weaken federal workers' collective bargaining and other rights, and would allow federal employees to go on strike. (They are currently barred by law from doing so).
Warren would also seek to create a European-style system of collective bargaining in which union leaders and managers agree on minimum standards for an entire industry sector rather than negotiate company-by-company.
Warren would sign H.R. 582 (116), the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the federal hourly minimum wage gradually to $15, up from the current $7.25, and eliminate the lower tipped wage. On her first day as president, Warren says, she would sign an executive order requiring all federal contractors to pay a $15 hourly minimum.
Warren would restore an Obama-era rule that would have given 4.2 million additional workers overtime eligibility. That regulation was enjoined by a federal court in Texas shortly before it was to take effect in December 2016. But recently, the Trump administration substituted a rule expanding overtime eligibility to 1.3 million workers.
On pensions, Warren favors S. 2254 (116), which would shore up insolvent multiemployer pensions like the Teamsters' Central States Pension Funds and the United Mine Workers' Pensions & Retiree Health Care. Warren would also resurrect the Obama Labor Department's fiduciary rule, which required brokers to consider only the best interests of the client, irrespective of commissions or fees, when providing retirement advice. A federal appeals court struck down that regulation last year.
Warren’s plan includes her proposed S. 3348 (115), which would require corporations with $1 billion or more in annual revenue to allow employees to elect at least 40 percent of the company’s board. Warren would also favor legislation to ban "no poach" provisions, arbitration agreements, and class action waivers in employment contracts.
How would it work?
Many of Warren’s proposals would require approval from Congress, requiring Democrats to win the Senate before they'd have any chance of becoming law. Warren also stressed she would increase enforcement at worker protection and oversight agencies by providing more funding, which would also require approval by Congress.
Warren’s plans to reverse various Trump administration regulations, such as DOL’s joint-employer proposal and overtime rule, would require going through a lengthy rulemaking process. Federal agency rules can also be challenged in court under the Administrative Procedure Act. Previous court actions barring the Obama overtime and fiduciary regulations would pose especially difficult obstacles.
What have other Democrats proposed?
Warren’s plan aligns closely with other Democratic plans. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke similarly support European-style bargaining by industry sector. Sanders’ labor proposal would allow workplaces to organize by card check, and would extend the right to stroke to federal workers. Every Democratic candidate, with the exception of Andrew Yang and Sen. Michael Bennet, have supported raising the federal minimum wage to $15.