The new bill to strengthen penalties against employers who illegally fire workers for collective action that Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott introduced in Congress on Wednesday would do more than just deter those illegal firings, argue the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit: it would reframe union rights as civil rights.
The WAGE Act would give workers the same remedies as employees whose civil rights are violated: the ability not just to get their jobs and back pay, which is the rule now, but to win punitive damages, to engage in legal discovery that gives lawyers access to an employer’s internal files, and win attorneys’ fees when workers prevail. Employees also can get a preliminary injunction to get their jobs back right away.
By giving workers a fresh way to think about becoming part of a union – as a civil right, rather than just joining a special interest – the idea has a chance to re-awaken a conversation that has languished in American politics. The decimation of the American labor movement has been catastrophic for the middle class, keeping wages down and weakening the voice of middle-class citizens in the political process.
As Kahlenberg and Marvit suggest, “the time may be right” for this idea to come up in the presidential campaign:
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have attacked inequality and offered good proposals, such as increasing the minimum wage, which will help move the poor into the working class. But only a strong organized labor movement – and new, alternative forms of worker representation — can help move large numbers of people from the working class to the middle class. The WAGE Act is a simple, concrete proposal for change that would help both traditional unions and new, emerging organizations that represent workers. The presidential candidates should make it a central plank in their campaigns.
What a good idea. Ball’s in your court, Secretary Clinton, Sen. Sanders …
This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.