Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO president, speaks during an event on workers' rights at the White House on Sept. 8, 2021. Biden has been a strong ally of organized labor.
The AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of labor unions, did not make any demands of President Joe Biden in return for the group’s earliest-ever endorsement of a presidential candidate, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler told HuffPost in an interview last week.
Shuler, instead, believes that Biden’s record helping labor unions was more than enough to secure its early endorsement, which it coordinated in June with numerous member unions and several unions that are not in the AFL-CIO, such as the Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association.
“An endorsement for the president ― the earliest we’ve ever done it, in the most unified way … was a statement because this is the most pro-union president in our lifetimes, and he has shown time and time again that he has put the interests of workers first,” Shuler said. “It’s not a transaction. But he basically shows up to work every morning thinking about what’s in the best interests of working people.”
HuffPost followed up, asking whether the AFL-CIO hopes Biden will deliver specific pro-union policies in his second term.
“We’ll continue to make sure these investments in clean energy and chips and science and infrastructure materialize as we envision, which is to unleash unprecedented growth in new industries that are going to create good union jobs,” Shuler replied. “So that’s all already underway, but we just think it’s going to be this trend line that goes up, up, up and we’ll be able to organize workplaces that we never thought possible because of the support that we’re seeing.”
“The future looks really bright,” she continued. “And that’s what we would just hope: That we can finish the job as [Biden] says and keep that upward trajectory going and opportunities for working people in the labor movement.”
In total, the AFL-CIO’s member unions represent more than 13 million workers, and its political organizing operation is expected to play a critical role in Biden’s reelection campaign. The federation even has a political outreach arm, Working America, for working-class people who do not belong to unions.
Biden has indeed been a historically strong ally for organized labor. His American Rescue Plan Act provided a massive injection of cash to state and local governments, which benefited public-sector unions. The CHIPS Act and Inflation Reduction Act have spurred a rise in factory construction, allowing unions to expand their ranks in the industrial sector.
Biden speaks in July at the Philadelphia shipyard where union workers are building an offshore wind vessel. Organized labor has a long way to go to reverse a decades-long decline.
Biden’s appointees have also provided critical support for workers seeking to organize. Just last week, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that if an employer violates labor law such that the results of a union election get canceled, that employer must immediately recognize the union and begin bargaining. Experts believe the decision will discourage companies from issuing illegal threats or misleading promises during a union vote.
With union membership in the U.S. at its lowest rate in recorded history, however, there are still plenty of other policy changes that Biden could either enact by executive order or encourage Congress to pass to lift the labor movement’s fortunes.
For example, Biden could impose stricter conditions on federal contractors to encourage them not to interfere with workers’ unionization efforts.
The labor movement’s coveted legislative prize would be the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a vast overhaul of U.S. labor law that Democrats first introduced in 2019. The bill would, among other things, dramatically increase fines for violations of labor law perpetrated by employers against workers during a union drive or collective bargaining, putting real muscle behind the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 that many unionists believe is inadequate for the current era of employer opposition to unions. The legislation would also ban state-level right-to-work laws and require gig economy companies to treat their workers like employees, entitling them to more protections and benefits.
But while the PRO Act has passed the House twice under Democratic rule ― in 2020 and 2021 ― the Democratic Senate effectively shelved it in 2021.
Asked whether the AFL-CIO had a plan to pass core elements of the PRO Act, perhaps in modified form, Shuler did not outline a specific plan.
“There’s a number of provisions in the PRO Act that we’d like to see happen, and of course, we are recalibrating our approach based on how we see the Senate and the House terrain ahead,” Shuler said. “But what we do know is that workers are fired up about it, and so it’s also a tool for us to keep members and workers engaged in the process.”
She added, “Certainly Biden has said he will sign it if it arrived at his desk, so he’s doing everything he can.”