Labor & Wages
A New Rising Tide
Empowering Workers in a Changing Economy

 

We’re on the verge of a new American era, and this election is a defining moment for our nation. Rapid developments in technology are making changes to our lives that we could have never imagined just a few years ago. We face a climate emergency that threatens communities across America. How we manage the changes coming our way will define not just the next four years, but the next century.

Pete has seen how politicians in Washington have let these problems get worse and worse, and knows that we need a fundamentally new and different approach to fix our broken political and economic system. We need an economy where everyone has a role and everyone can succeed. We need a society where everyone feels they belong, where our differences make us stronger and move us forward, even in the face of a party and a president that are taking us backward. And we need a President who embraces the seriousness of the moment, but is free of the bad habits and outdated thinking that got us here.

As the economy transforms, we need policies that can adapt to the changing environment and give workers a fair chance.

Decades ago, we were promised a rising tide of economic growth that would lift all boats. We got the rising tide–GDP went up, productivity went up–but our paychecks didn’t show it. Working class wages have stagnated since 1980. The need for new skills in a changing economy is one piece of the puzzle. But the hard truth is that while the economy changed, workers’ voices were systematically silenced. Our economy has been tilted towards the wealthy and away from the middle and working class because the people in power designed our laws and policies that way. That’s especially true when it comes to workers of color and women, who have historically been undervalued and excluded in the workplace. To ensure every American has a fair shot, that has to change. As we enter a new American era, it’s time we restored fairness and balance to our economy, so that every American can share in our country’s growth. And it’s time to help our nation’s workforce become more resilient, inclusive, and flexible, and more easily adapt to our dynamic, ever-changing economy.

The economy keeps growing, but since 1980 the typical worker's wages haven't kept up

We all know that the federal minimum wage failed to keep up with our changing economy, but that’s only part of the story. Economic models for employment are also changing, which is affecting worker bargaining power. At the same time, membership in private-sector unions–the same unions that gave us the minimum wage, the 40-hour workweek, and worker health and safety protections–has dropped to just 6%, in part because employers have pressured and harassed workers into not organizing in the first place. And membership in public sector unions has also fallen in recent years as they have come under attack.

Business models are changing bargaining power. For example, McDonald’s expanded across America while keeping wages low by refusing to bargain with workers who technically work for small local McDonald’s franchises. More than half of workers in Google’s offices do not share in Google’s success because they are domestically outsourced temps and contractors, while millions of Uber and Lyft drivers lack basic protections because they’re misclassified as independent contractors. Meanwhile, so-called “right-to-work laws” in many states have further undermined unions and workers. All of these changes have shifted bargaining power, bit by bit, from workers to their employers.

That shift in bargaining power is a big part of why U.S. economic growth is no longer broadly shared. Since the turn of the century–when Pete and his generation entered the workforce–GDP growth has gone entirely to the richest tenth of Americans. The 90% of Americans who are not in that tiny tenth have experienced almost no income growth. From 1946 to about 1980, real GDP per worker doubled and incomes at every level roughly doubled.

But as real GDP per worker grew another 60% since then, working-class incomes didn’t grow at all while upper class incomes leapt 120%. When it comes to our actual incomes, GDP keeps getting it wrong. And when you target the wrong number, you get the wrong policies. You can find a job, but not one that supports you like it did for our parents. Millennials are the first generation to not fare any better economically than the generations that preceded them.

Share of total income for the top 10% of earners

Economic policies have to be focused on growing incomes for the 90%. Targeting the majority of Americans will lead to growth for the majority of Americans. That’s why Pete will assess how the economy is doing by income growth for the 90%–the vast majority of Americans who are not in the richest tenth.

At the end of the day, this is about fairness. Workers should have an equal seat at the table.  Corporations shouldn’t get to hide behind legal technicalities that let them mistreat and push workers down. If we work overtime hours, we should get overtime pay. We should also be able to bargain with a company to determine pay and work conditions. To make the 21st-century economy work for every worker, all of our nation’s workers should have the bargaining power they need to demand good jobs, fair pay, and safe workplaces. As the workforce changes with more women and people of color, we also have a moral and economic imperative to ensure historically excluded and undervalued groups finally enjoy the benefits of strong bargaining and labor protections. And we must ensure that equal pay for equal work becomes a business priority just as it is a priority for women across the  country.

Pete is laying out a set of policies to empower workers and raise wages, going above and beyond existing legislative proposals like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Pete’s goals are to accelerate wage growth for the broad middle class and restore our society’s  economic compact. He will get there with policies aimed at doubling unionization, restoring workers’ rights that have been eroded by decades of anti-worker policies by government and corporations alike, and expanding labor rights to workers who have been left out. 

These policies will:

  • Guarantee gig economy workers their labor rights, including unionization
  • Institute gender pay transparency
  • Impose strong, multimillion-dollar penalties that scale with company size when a company interferes with union elections
  • Level the playing field in union elections by requiring “equal airtime on company time,” so that workers hear from union organizers and not just employers
  • Enshrine the right to multi-employer bargaining
  • Expand federal protections to cover farm and domestic workers
  • Establish a consistent preference in federal government contracting for unionized employers that provide workers with fair pay and benefits

Pete also strongly supports the Raise the Wage Act, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, the Schedules That Work Act, the Healthy Families Act, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the EMPOWER Act, the BE HEARD Act, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act, and the FAMILY Act. Some of these bills’ especially important provisions include efforts to:

  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and indexing to wage growth
  • End “right-to-work” laws, which ban union security in collective bargaining
  • Deliver card-check rights
  • Guarantee workers access to paid sick leave and paid family leave, and the predictable hours and wages they deserve
  • Ensure that all workers can bargain with the companies that actually control the terms of their employment
  • Stop employers from permanently replacing workers who strike, enhancing workers’ rights to secondary boycotts
  • Take steps to prevent union election interference 
  • Create safe, equitable, accessible, and fair workplaces for women and all people that are free of harassment and discrimination
  • Include domestic workers, who have been historically excluded from many employment laws, in common workplace rights and protections

Pete also strongly supports the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act and the Public Safety Employer Employee Cooperation Act, because workers who choose to enter public service–whether federal, state, or local–should not have to give up their organizing rights in the workplace.

Guarantee workplace protections for all American workers–including gig economy workers, fast-food workers, and contract workers

Workers cannot have a level playing field on which to advocate for better salaries, benefits, and working conditions if they are unable to bargain with the company or companies that actually set the terms of their employment. Yet all too often, U.S. workers today find themselves shut out from bargaining with their real employers. For example, many drivers on ridesharing apps are misclassified as independent contractors, while many fast-food workers are considered employees of local franchises but not of the national chains that control the terms of their employment.

Union Organizing

To ensure that workers can bargain effectively with the companies that control the terms of their employment, Pete will:

  • Allow gig economy workers to unionize and earn a fair wage.

    Pete will support codifying the simple “ABC test” for classifying workers nationally in order to prevent workers in the gig economy from being denied minimum wage, overtime, and antidiscrimination protections–and their ability to unionize. In order to classify a worker as an independent contractor under the ABC test, an employer must demonstrate that the worker (A) is free from the employer’s control, (B) is performing work that is outside the employer’s usual course of business, and (C) customarily works as an independent business in that industry. The test will also ensure that Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections like the minimum wage apply. As a backstop to the ABC test and in order to guarantee collective bargaining rights to gig workers, Pete will also propose amending U.S. law to allow independent contractors with no employees, little capital investment, and substantially similar working relationships with a single company to unionize.

  • Aggressively crack down on the payroll fraud of employers misclassifying workers as “independent contractors.”

    Employers who call workers “independent contractors” instead of employees make it harder for workers to collect on the promise of core protections like overtime, civil rights protections, and unemployment insurance. In the short run, this behavior hurts responsible employers who are playing by the rules. Pete will support substantially increasing funding for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), among other agencies that fight misclassification, to ensure that employers are not misclassifying their workers as contractors rather than employees. He will likewise empower agencies at the state and federal level to share enforcement information through an interagency misclassification taskforce. Pete also endorses the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act, which makes misclassification a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violation.

  • Establish bright-line rules to ensure that workers can bargain with the companies that set the terms of their employment.

    In “fissured” industries like fast food and custodial services, current policy leaves millions of workers able to collectively bargain only with their nominal employers rather than the companies that actually control their hours and working conditions. Companies like Google should not be able to hire contractors – from janitors to food service workers to managers to software engineers – that look like employees, but who cannot bargain with Google because they technically work for a staffing firm or other intermediaries. Pete will support codifying a strong “joint employer” standard to fix.

Ensure equal pay and promotion for equal work

On average, women are paid only around 80% of what men are paid. On average, Black women are paid 61 cents, and Latinas 53 cents, for every dollar paid to a white man. On top of that, women who become parents permanently lose 30% of their earnings. These numbers reflect systemic issues that not only result in employers underpaying women for the same work that men do, but also steer women into lower-paid occupations and industries and keep them out of managerial roles when they have children. Both explicit discrimination and implicit bias may be at play in perpetuating the pay and promotion gaps. A thriving economy relies on empowering women’s potential. 

To ensure that women are paid fairly, Pete will:

  • Institute gender pay transparency.

    Closing the gender pay gap requires not only that women are equally compensated, but also that women are promoted into and retained in the well-paid jobs they deserve. Transparency can help. The public should know which companies are doing right by their female employees with fair pay, promotions, and family-friendly work arrangements, and which ones have glass ceilings. Pete will propose legislation to immediately make public the total pay gap at every large company: for every dollar that the company pays to male employees as a whole, how much does it pay to female employees? Unlike other data reporting proposals, the total pay gap does not require the government to collect any new information, can be released immediately, and is hard to game. Companies that employ mostly men, or that employ only men in their good-paying jobs, will have especially large pay gaps compared to their competitors. Those companies will face public pressure to pay women equally for equal work within jobs and also to hire, promote, and retain women throughout the pay scale. Total pay gap transparency would be a down payment on more granular reporting requirements, such as by gender, race, and job within companies–building on the Obama Administration’s Equal Opportunity Office compensation data collection.

  • Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

    The Paycheck Fairness Act, which the House of Representatives passed with bipartisan support in 2019, would ban employers from using an employee’s salary history to determine wages, ensure that workers have the right to discuss wages without retaliation, and require employers to justify any pay discrepancies.

  • Pass anti-harassment laws and gender nondiscrimination laws to help address other factors that impact the gender wage gap.

    The pay gap has many causes, including harassment in the workplace and discrimination against women for things like pregnancy. That’s why Pete endorses the EMPOWER Act, to limit companies’ ability to keep harassment survivors quiet, the BE HEARD Act, to extend civil rights law prohibiting harassment to all workers and workplaces, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, to ensure pregnant workers are not forced out of work when they need reasonable workplace accommodations. Pete will also evaluate child care and school enrollment and scheduling policies that can better align children’s school schedules with family and caregivers’ work schedules for the benefit of all.

Ensure employers can’t interfere with union elections

Shockingly, U.S. employers face no monetary penalties for illegally interfering with workers seeking to organize a union. Not only that, but employers can legally flood their workers with anti-union propaganda on company time while preventing union organizers from talking to workers. To stop employers from interfering with worker choice and to guarantee free and fair union elections, Pete is proposing:

  • Introducing multimillion-dollar penalties for employer interference in union elections and workers’ rights.

    Small penalties will not deter bad behavior. Pete will support empowering the courts and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to assess civil penalties on interfering employers that scale automatically with the company’s revenue. Separately, he will also support improving non-monetary penalties such as streamlining reinstatement for workers who are fired for participating in an organizing drive or other concerted activity, as proposed in the PRO Act.

  • Ensure that workers can hear from union organizers.

    Employers have an enormous built-in advantage to convey their anti-union message to employees through meetings and other communications. Pete will support legislation to provide union organizers access to employees on company premises to talk about the benefits of unionization. This includes “equal airtime on company time,” meaning that employers that convene mandatory anti-union meetings during the workday must provide the same amount of company time to union organizers to make their case. Equal airtime is fully consistent with the proper interpretation of the constitutional principles at stake.

Expanding bargaining rights

The cornerstone of current U.S. labor law, the National Labor Relations Act, was designed in 1935

for an economy in which almost all employers directly employed all of their workers, and lawmakers designated the individual employer as the default level for collective union bargaining in most cases. Workers would join a union at a single employer and engage in collective bargaining at the worksite level. Today, our modern economy is much more fragmented, threatening worker bargaining power even in industries where unions have traditionally been strong. Worker bargaining power is limited when workers are spread across many different competing employers. That problem can be fixed by allowing workers across multiple employers in the same business to bargain collectively. To help empower workers in the modern economy, Pete will, for the first time in American history, give working people the right to demand access to multi-employer bargaining. This means he will:

  • Empower workers to band together outside the firm through multi-employer bargaining.

    Workers at unionized worksites of employers in the same line of work who compete with one another will be allowed to decide to bargain on a multi-site or multi-employer basis, and their employers will be required to bargain toward a collective bargaining agreement. For example, workers at three unionized fast-food restaurants will be able to decide collectively to bring their three employers to a single bargaining table and negotiate a single pay package for all three restaurants. And in industries without large worksites–such as domestic and home health care workers who are disproportionately women and people of color and who have long been prevented from organizing–must have mechanisms for exercising worker bargaining power across employers to set a single standard for employment conditions in a local area. With cities like Seattle leading the way on standards for domestic workers, local experimentation should receive legal support at the national level. Pete would direct his Labor Secretary to identify other similar areas where national policy can support or scale local innovations.

Bargaining Table

Workers from different companies within the same industry will be able to join forces to require their employers to bargain towards a collective bargaining agreement.

BargainingTable

 

Award government contracts to companies taking the high road

Since the 1960s, the federal government has led the way in fighting discrimination by requiring hiring practices that promote diversity at the many companies seeking to do business with it. In our changing economy, we need to use the power of the federal government to reward companies for taking the high road and treating their workers fairly. To that end, Pete will:

  • Give preference in government contracts to firms that treat their workers well.

    As it stands, companies that take the high road and treat their workers well are at a competitive disadvantage in bidding for government contracts. To give an affirmative leg up for high-road employers, Pete will support legislation to give preference in the bidding process for federal contracts to companies that are unionized and offer good pay and benefits to all their workers. The federal government should not be using taxpayer money to support companies that do not support their workers. Pete would also prioritize strengthening and providing resources to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Ensure workers access to the predictable hours, wages, and support they deserve

Too many workers today are stuck in jobs that do not pay fair wages or provide them with the predictable schedules that they need to look after their families. To ensure workers have access to fair wages and predictable schedules, Pete will:

  • Ensure workers have access to paid sick leave and paid family leave–no matter where they work.

    Almost 30% of private-sector workers in the United States lack access to paid sick leave, and in some industries it’s over 60%. In addition to passing the Healthy Families Act, Pete would set up a national system of paid sick leave. For workers who do not receive at least 7 paid sick leave days from their employer, even under the Healthy Families Act, their employers would be required to pay in the equivalent of one hour of pay for every 30 hours they work, up to a total of 56 hours, into a state fund that these workers could draw from. If workers work for more than one employer, all employers they work for would pay in. Workers would be allowed to roll over these days from year to year. Workers should also have access to paid family and medical leave for more serious health and family caregiving issues, including parental leave. This is why Pete strongly endorses the FAMILY Act, to create a national paid family and medical leave fund similar to successful policies in several states.

  • Protect undocumented workers from retaliation when reporting labor violations.

    Employers should not be able to retaliate against any worker who wants the minimum wage enforced, supports union organizing, or seeks other protections under labor and employment laws. Making those protections clear and providing full remedies for undocumented workers is important–both to protect those workers from threats like being reported to ICE and also to avoid creating downward pressure on everyone’s work conditions and pay. Pete would also support legislation that would provide visas for victims of labor and employment law violations who are helpful in prosecuting those violations–just as we do for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking crimes.

  • Ensure visa portability.

    Workers who come to this country should not have to continue working for an abusive employer simply because their visa is tied to that employer. That not only hurts workers with visas by enabling employers to exploit them, it also hurts all workers by lowering labor standards across the board. Pete will propose reforms to temporary work visas so that workers can move to another employer in their industry and keep their visa. Pete would also support legislation that would provide greater transparency for temporary work visa programs.

  • Restore overtime regulations that would protect 8 million more workers.

    President Trump has rolled back the new overtime regulations from the Obama Administration, replacing them with ones that protect millions fewer workers–workers who are no longer guaranteed “time-and-a-half” pay when they work more hours for their employer. Pete would restore the Obama-era overtime regulations to ensure workers are protected and would pass legislation to strengthen overtime rules moving forward by ensuring that, in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement, overtime kicks in after 8 hours per day (in addition to over 40 hours per week) or over 7 days in a row.
  • Fund enforcement that would deal with the massive problem of wage theft.

    Too many workers are not paid the wages that they have earned from their employer. Almost  one-fifth of low-wage workers experience wage theft. Pete would ensure that federal agencies have all the resources they need to go after employers who don’t even pay their workers the minimum wage and overtime they’re owed–and that employers who steal from their workers face serious penalties.

  • Ensure that workers have access to predictable schedules – and if they don’t, that they are adequately compensated.

    Workers should know that they are going to get the predictable hours they need so that they can plan their lives and pay their monthly bills. Employers should not be able to require workers to be on call, or to demand that workers be at the workplace with little notice, unless they compensate those workers accordingly. The Schedules That Work Act, which Pete strongly supports, would ensure that workers have access to predictable schedules, or receive compensation for their irregular schedule.

  • Endorse the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

    Today, domestic workers are excluded from basic employment and labor protections, which leaves workers who are disproportionately women, and particularly women of color, open to exploitation. That’s why Pete endorses the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act which provides domestic workers access to the same employment rights as other workers–from overtime pay to antidiscrimination–and creates standards like harassment protections and fair scheduling to address the unique nature of their working conditions.

Pass a $15 federal minimum wage indexed to wage growth

For too long, the typical worker’s wages have not kept up with expenses like health care, housing, and education. Pete wants to make sure that workers who are giving their all to an employer are getting paid fairly in return. By raising the federal minimum wage to $15, we can start taking steps to make sure that the economy is working for all workers. Over 33 million workers would benefit from raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. We also need to index the federal minimum wage to median wage growth so that moving forward, both workers and employers know with certainty what it will be in the years to come. That’s why Pete strongly endorses the Raise the Wage Act. An important part of the Raise the Wage Act is ending the subminimum wage for disabled workers and ending the tipped minimum wage. No one in the United States should be exempted from minimum wage laws. This practice is indefensible.

As we enter a new American era, our economy will continue to shift beneath our feet. But what should never change is our commitment to empower workers and ensure that they can afford to live a decent life. With these policies, we will lift up American workers and their wages, while equipping both workers and employers with the tools they need to thrive in a 21st-century economy. Let’s make sure that in this coming era, the tide continues to rise–and truly lifts all boats.