A new bill—the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy Act, aka the WAGE Act—would make the right to join a labor union a civil right.
Workers who are fired or discriminated because they are union members would have the same rights as workers who suffer racial or sex discrimination.
This would be a big change. It would give individual workers a much stronger legal position than under existing labor law—in some
Labor union membership has been steadily declining—not, in my opinion, because American workers are satisfied with their wages and working conditions, but because they fear retaliation from employers.
Without the union voice, wages (adjusted for inflation) are stagnant and inequality is increasing. If everybody who wants to join a labor union could do so without fear, I think this could turn around.
The WAGE Act was introduced by Senator Patti Murray, D-WA, and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-VA. It was co-sponsored by Bernie Sanders and has been endorsed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The bill has virtually nil chance of getting through Congress this year. A similar bill introduced last year by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN, and John Lewis, D-GA, failed. But it’s only by keeping the issue on the public agenda that this right can be won.
Firing an employee for union membership is at present an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act. The best that an employee can hope for from the NLRB is reinstatement in the job and partial back pay years later, and the odds are against even that.
Under the WAGE Act, employees would have the right to sue in court and ask to be put back to work with no loss of pay or benefits while the case is pending. If they won the case, they would get triple back pay, while the employer could face a $50,000 fine—$100,000 if it was a second offense.