This month, members of the Writers Guild of America, East and West, decided to strike for the first time in 15 years. Two weeks earlier, UPS employees represented by the Teamsters have begun negotiations with the company to replace an existing agreement that was due to expire at the end of July. If a new agreement is not reached, these workers could go on strike as they did very successfully in 1997, delaying the delivery of goods across the country. You might not think that a Hollywood writer and a UPS driver or package handler have much in common, but the struggles they currently face show what a struggle for labor rights is a struggle in which we all have to be involved, whatever we do.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Americans were isolated due to lockdown orders, streaming TV shows and movies provided us with an entertaining respite to help us forget our troubles. while delivery drivers diligently ensured vital goods reached their destination so our economy could function.
A critical outcome of the pandemic has been the growing appreciation Americans have developed for long-neglected “essential” workers. We realized how important they are to ensure the proper functioning of the national economy. In turn, these “essential” workers – and workers on all sides – gained a renewed sense of their worth – and a determination to ensure they are treated with dignity and given freedom of action. at their place of work.
This revival of the labor movement led to the rise of historic organizing campaigns in Starbucks, Amazon, and among college and university graduate students, to name a few. And it is from this angle that we must see what is happening in the writers’ strike and the UPS negotiations. Even if all these workers have different jobs, their fight is the same.
Writers want a pay rise, better health care and retirement security, and better protections so the writing profession doesn’t become just another “gig” job. UPS drivers are fighting for, among other demands, a pay raise for part-timers and the elimination of a second tier of drivers who handle weekend deliveries so that all drivers are treated in the same way. It is striking that whether a person works in a writing room or a delivery processing room, they are fed up with the gradual devaluation of their work due to corporate greed and the rush for short term profits.
These workers are not just fighting for better wages and benefits. They also fight to protect the future of their professions so that new and young workers have the same opportunities as them.
Throughout the revived labor movement, there is tremendous solidarity within and between unions. A recognition that their lots are linked. In short, workers are united in a way not seen in decades.
Unfortunately, Washington is failing workers when they need support the most. In the last Congress, the Senate failed to pass the PRO Act, repeating a 50-year trend of failure to reform federal labor laws to strengthen workers’ rights to organize, including when Democrats controlled both houses under four Democratic presidents, from Carter to Biden. . Even though there is a lot of energy in the labor movement right now, labor law still strongly favors companies and managers who want to keep workers’ voices out. The PRO Act would have rectified this by increasing penalties for violations of workers’ rights, empowering workers to organize and preventing employer interference to ensure free and fair union elections.
However, due to the filibuster, the Senate failed to pass this much-needed legislation. Likewise, last year Congress failed to increase the budget of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) enough to meet current needs. The NLRB is the agency responsible for enforcing federal labor laws and is often the last resort for organizing workers whose rights have been violated by their employers. In this time of historic levels of worker activity, the NLRB does not have the budget to ensure compliance with the law dedicated to defending their rights. Employers know and understand that they will often face no consequences for many of their violations due to the limited resources available to the NLRB.
Our elected officials cannot let this pass. The right to organize and retain labor is fundamental in any country that claims to be a democracy. But a right that cannot be claimed is no right at all. The writers’ strike and the UPS negotiations are two current examples of why we need strong protections for the freedom of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Workers across the country are rising up but have been abandoned for too long in Washington. We need to take bold action, pass the PRO Act and fully fund the NLRB.
Workers are united, now is the time for Washington to act.
Andy Levin is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress who worked on labor issues for two terms in Congress, as Michigan’s Chief Workforce Officer, the AFL-CIO and the Clinton Labor Department.
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