V.P. Harris & Labor Secretary Walsh Ask Federal Employees To Join a Union

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

After decades of decline, America’s labor movement appears on the verge of an upswing. 

Federal workers are being encouraged to join labor unions under new guidelines released today by Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. One of the goals of the new initiative is to reimagine the federal workforce as a welcoming place for women and workers of color to become part of the labor movement. 

President Biden’s administration has long eyed the need to increase the collective bargaining power of U.S. workers in every corner of the country. Administration officials are launching this effort at the federal level with the hope of expanding into the private sector. The federal government is already the country’s largest employer with millions employed by the U.S. Postal service and other non-postal employees. Only 20 percent of federal employees currently belong to a union.

At the White House today, Harris, who chairs the White House labor task force, and Walsh, its vice chair, announced two new executive actions. During the hiring and onboarding process, the government will be required to educate applicants about unions.  During training sessions, union representatives will also have the opportunity to interact with new employees.   

Current employees will be provided information throughout the year about their collective bargaining rights and how to contact their unions. In 1983, 20.1 percent of all workers were members of labor unions. Since then, union membership has been steadily declining. Today only 10.8 percent of the workforce belong to unions, up slightly from 2019. 

While membership in traditional unions like the Teamsters have recently lost almost 10 percent of their memberships, public-sector unions are steadily growing. The pandemic severely impacted non-union jobs. Therefore the percentage of America’s unionized workers is larger now than any time during the last five years. 

More men than women currently belong to unions (11 percent versus 10.5 percent) and most members are between the ages of 45-64. More Black workers than White workers (11.2 percent versus 10.3 percent) enjoy the benefits of union membership. Asians make up 8.8 percent of union workers and Hispanics 8.5 percent. Only 6.3 percent of private sector workers belong to a union versus 34.8 percent of public sector workers. 

To once again meet its full potential, America’s labor union movement must quickly adapt to the changing face of American work – which is becoming much more service oriented. Many U.S. manufacturing jobs are thought to be gone forever. Employers like Amazon will be pushing back against organizing attempts by offering higher wages and better compensation packages. Gig economy workers are also seeking great protection. Even workers at a Buffalo, New York Starbucks launched an organizing campaign to combat what they called chronic under-staffing, a chaotic work environment, erratic hours and difficulty taking sick days. Currently Starbucks 8,000 corporate-owned U.S. stores are not unionized. 

Many New Orleanians who have traditionally labored in low-paying jobs with little career advancement. They now have the opportunity to be more selective as employers increasingly come to grips with the need to value and compensate workers. Today, workers are already winning. Unions say they can make members’ lives even better.  

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