Sen. Elizabeth Warren has released her plan for empowering American workers and raising wages, and, like Sen. Bernie Sanders’ workplace democracy plan, there is a lot here—and the sheer scope of the changes Warren proposes again reminds us of how effective the corporate and Republican war on workers has been over the past few decades. In a country that treated workers right, there wouldn’t be this many big changes to propose.
Warren identifies five broad goals, under which she organizes dozens of specific proposals:
- Extending labor rights to all workers
- Strengthening organizing, collective bargaining, and the right to strike
- Raising wages and protecting pensions
- Increasing worker choice and control
- Expanding worker protections, combating discrimination, and improving enforcement
Extending labor rights to all workers includes passing legislation to protect farm workers and domestic workers, who are left out of key current labor laws (because they were predominantly black workforces at the time those laws were passed); ending misclassification of workers as independent contractors, as California recently passed a law to do; defining companies like McDonald’s as joint employers of the workers in their franchise restaurants and in other ways broadening the joint employer standard; allowing graduate students and some people currently defined as supervisors to unionize; cracking down on exploitation of undocumented workers; and more.
Warren’s proposals for strengthening organizing, collective bargaining, and the right to strike include prohibiting state-level “right to work” laws; passing majority sign-up for union organizing and passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act; cracking down on intimidation and interference by employers and by state and local officials; using antitrust laws to expand rights for gig economy workers; and expanding the National Labor Relations Board’s enforcement power. She’d protect workers’ right to strike by banning permanent replacement of strikers, protecting the right to engage in repeated short strikes (like the one-day strikes favored by Fight for $15), doing away with secondary boycott restrictions, and more.
Warren would also promote sectoral bargaining, in which workers in an industry can bargain across multiple employers. “Each individual firm may have a strong incentive to resist collective bargaining if it believes it will raise costs and put the firm in a worse position relative to its competitors,” her plan says. “But if every firm is bound by the same bargaining outcome, their relative standing remains. That creates conditions for a more successful bargaining process.”
A $15 minimum wage, including for tipped workers and workers with disabilities, is a big part of Warren’s plan to raise wages and protect pensions. But that’s not all. She would also reinstate the Obama administration plan to raise the threshold for overtime pay eligibility—the Trump administration rolled that plan back significantly while still claiming credit for having raised the overtime threshold above Bush-era levels—and, just as she pledges to use antitrust law to protect gig economy workers, she’d use federal authority to “reject mergers if they create labor market consolidation that will drive down wages.” She’d support apprenticeships and project labor agreements, key policies for the building trades, and she’d strengthen pensions. Warren also addresses a question that skeptics of Medicare for All often raise, noting that health care is often a sticking point in union contract negotiations—a sticking point that could be eliminated by Medicare for All—but pledging, “In both the transition to Medicare for All and its implementation, my administration will work closely with unions and multiemployer health insurance funds to protect the gains they have made and to draw on their experience providing quality health care to working people.”
But wait, that’s not all. In the name of increasing worker choice and control, Warren would require that “American companies with $1 billion or more in annual revenue must let employees elect no less than 40% of the company’s Board members.” She’d enable workers to move more freely between jobs by banning noncompete agreements and no-poaching clauses. She’d do away with forced arbitration and class action waivers. In the name of expanding workplace protections and combating discrimination, Warren would promote fair scheduling laws and stronger safety protections, push to knock down anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, prohibit policies that are technically race-neutral but really discriminatory, such as allowing employers to ban workers from having dreadlocks, and press for protections for disabled and pregnant workers. But all the good policies in the world don’t help workers if they’re not enforced, so Warren would also strengthen enforcement.
Like I said, it’s a lot. Much of what Warren proposes, of course, would need to be passed through Congress, which is yet another reason we need Democrats to retake the Senate. But significant chunks of it could also be done through executive action and using the federal contracting process to move some major employers.