This month, the Writer’s articles Guild in America, East and West, decided to strike for the first time in 15 years. Two weeks ago, UPS Employees represented by the Teamsters have begun negotiations with the company to replace an existing agreement that is set to expire at the end of July. If a new agreement is not agreed upon, these workers may go on strike as they successfully did 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 would have much in common, but the struggles they face today highlight how the fight for labor rights is one we all need. to be involved-no matter what we do.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Americans are isolated due to lockdown orders, streaming TV shows and movies provide a fun break to help us forget our troubles. while delivery drivers diligently ensure that essential goods reach their destination to keep our economy going. functions.
A critical consequence of the pandemic is the growing appreciation Americans have developed for long-neglected “essential” workers. We realize how important they are in helping to ensure that the country’s economy runs smoothly. In turn, these “essential” workers–and workers of all kinds–gain a renewed sense of their worth–and a determination to ensure that they are treated with dignity and given agency in their workplaces.
This revival of the labor movement led to the rise of historic organizing campaigns in the Starbucks, Amazon, and among graduate student workers at colleges and universities, to name a few. And it is under this lens that we must see what happened with the writer’s strike and the negotiations with UPS. Although the work of all these workers is different, their fight is the same.
Writers want more pay, better health care and pension security, and better protections so the writing profession doesn’t become another “gig” job. UPS drivers are fighting for, among other demands, more pay for part-time employees and the elimination of a second category of drivers handling weekend deliveries so that the all drivers are treated equally. It is amazing that whether a person works in a writing room or on a shipping processing floor, they are sick and tired of the gradual reduction of their work due to corporate greed and rush for short term profits. income.
These workers aren’t just fighting for better pay and benefits for themselves. They are also fighting to protect the future of their professions so that new and younger workers can get the same opportunities they have.
Throughout the revived labor movement, there was great unity within and across unions. An acknowledgment that their lots are tied. In short, workers are uniting in ways not seen for decades.
Unfortunately, Washington has neglected workers when they need support. During the last Congress, the Senate failed to pass the PRO Act, repeating a 50-year pattern of failing to change federal labor laws to improve workers’ rights to organize—including when Democrats have controlled both chambers under four Democratic presidents from Carter to Biden. Although there is a lot of energy in the labor movement today, labor law still favors corporations and executives who want to suppress workers’ voice. The PRO Act would have rectified this by increasing penalties for violations of workers’ rights, empowering workers who fight to organize, and preventing employer interference to ensure free and fair union elections.
However, due to the filibuster, the Senate was unable to pass this much needed legislation. Similarly, Congress last year failed to increase the budget of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) enough to meet current needs. The NLRB is the agency tasked with enforcing federal labor law and is often the last resort for organizing workers whose rights have been violated by their employers. At this time of historic levels of labor activism, the NLRB does not have the budget necessary to ensure compliance with legislation dedicated to upholding their rights. Employers know and understand that they often will not face any consequences for most of their violations due to the limited resources available to the NLRB.
Our elected representatives cannot tolerate this stance. The right to organize and hold labor is essential in any country that claims to be a democracy. But a right that cannot be asserted is no right at all. The writers’ strike and the UPS negotiations are two current examples of why we need strong protections for workers’ freedom to organize and bargain collectively. Workers across the country have stood up but failed for too long in Washington. We must 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 during two terms in Congress, as Michigan’s Chief Workforce Officer, the AFL-CIO, and the Clinton Labor Department.
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