Biden Vows 'Shift' In Union-Management Power Balance

By Braden Campbell
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Law360 (August 14, 2020, 9:41 PM EDT) -- Former Vice President Joe Biden on Friday pledged to pass legislation to strengthen worker organizing and secure additional funding for states and cities in remarks at the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees' biennial convention.

"We're going to shift the balance of power back to workers in this country," the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said.

Key to that shift is passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, Biden asserted. The PRO Act, which the House of Representatives passed in February, would enact a sweeping overhaul of federal labor law that includes tightening the job classification test to make more workers eligible to form unions, rolling back "right-to-work" laws that allow workers to opt out of paying dues, and imposing penalties on businesses that interfere with worker organizing.

The PRO Act would amend the private-sector National Labor Relations Act, so it would not affect much of AFSCME's largely public-sector membership. But Biden said his administration would strengthen government worker organizing by guaranteeing public-sector workers the right to engage in collective bargaining, which is only available to certain workers under state law. 

The former vice president also slammed President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying his opponent in this fall's election has "bungled us into the worst economic crisis in nearly a century." But that crisis has presented a chance to "build back and build back better than before," Biden said.

Biden's remarks, delivered digitally, came a day after the Senate adjourned for the month of August without reaching agreement on a fourth coronavirus stimulus package.

Democrats have coalesced around the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which would prop up ailing state and local governments with about $1 trillion in aid, revive and extend boosted unemployment benefits, and increase hourly pay for grocery workers, first responders and other "essential workers." Senate Republicans' proposal would provide less aid to state and local governments and cut by two-thirds the $600 weekly unemployment boost, all while shielding businesses from some lawsuits tied to the coronavirus.

Biden described the Republicans' proposed outlay to states and cities as "paltry" on Friday and criticized the president's executive order on unemployment last week, which partially extended the boosted benefits without providing new federal funds.

"That only created more strain on the states, forcing them to divert critical funding away from essential workers," Biden said Friday. "You know it better than anybody."

AFSCME President Lee Saunders also criticized the president and Republican leadership in remarks a day earlier, saying national leaders "have demonstrated only cowardice and incompetence" while AFSCME-represented nurses, unemployment claims providers and child care providers continue to serve their communities.

Saunders was reelected president on Friday, and Elissa McBride won another term as secretary-treasurer.

--Additional reporting by Andrew Kragie. Editing by Steven Edelstone.

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