Biden pushes for labor unions with executive order establishing new White House task force

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Monday establishing a new White House task force aimed at promoting labor unions across the country.

The White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment will make recommendations within 180 days to the federal government on how to help workers organize and bargain with their employers. That help could come in the form of new policies, programs and practices, according to a White House fact sheet.

The task force will also look for ways to increase workers’ rights among women and people of color who work in industries in which it is difficult to establish unions and which lack labor protections. According to the White House, 16 million workers in the United States are a part of a union or work in a job that provides union representation. The Biden administration said more than 6 in 10 of those workers are women and minorities.

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The ultimate goals of the task force include: making the federal government a model when it comes to respecting unions, making it easier for workers to unionize, increasing worker power in underserved communities and increasing union membership, particularly among the middle class.

Vice President Kamala Harris will chair the task force made up of Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh plus more than 20 cabinet members and heads of federal agencies. 

The White House pointed to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which was created to encourage workers’ unions and collective bargaining as well as to decrease harmful work environments in the private sector. According to Biden, no previous administration has fully pushed and implemented the policy. 

"Throughout our country’s history, unions have been the driving forces for advancements in workers’ rights and improved living standards for union and non-union workers," according to the White House. "They have fought for higher wages, greater job security, safety and health laws, essential benefits like health insurance and retirement plans, and protections from discrimination and sexual harassment for millions of workers across the country."

Biden and Harris championed labor unions during the 2020 presidential campaign, with labor leaders calling Biden the most "pro-union president," according to the New York Times. In January, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters praised Biden for signing an executive order that rescinded former President Donald Trump’s policies that limited collective bargaining, according to the union.

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"The Teamsters are pleased to see President Biden taking quick action to roll back anti-worker initiatives put forward by the former president so that some 2 million federal workers can regain the legal rights granted to them by Congress," Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a statement.

Biden’s efforts come as unions struggle to gain membership, and in the wake of a high-profile union defeat after a vote among Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, failed.

Earlier this month, workers at the Alabama Amazon warehouse voted against forming a union, with 1,798 warehouse workers ultimately rejecting the union while 738 voted in favor of it, according to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the process.

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A 2020 Gallup poll, 60% of Americans approve of labor unions, but only 37% of government workers and 6% of private-sector workers belong to a union. In 2020, union members made up just 10.8% of the U.S. workforce, down from more than 30% in the 1950s, according to the White House.

The Biden administration said it believes the decline in union membership is a contributing factor to the country’s societal and economic issues, leading to economic inequality, substandard wages and pay gaps among women and minorities. The administration also believes the decline in union membership undermines democracy as workers’ voices can’t be heard.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.