At Hearing, Murray Urges Action to Protect Workers’ Right to Organize
Senator Murray: “While our ways of working and our workforce may have changed, the need for workers to be able to join together and have a voice in their wages and working conditions—without fear—remains as important as ever.”
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, led a hearing on protecting workers’ right to organize and pushed to pass the PRO Act, comprehensive legislation to empower workers by strengthening federal labor laws. At the hearing, Senator Murray noted that after years of anti-worker attacks from the previous Administration and 70-years since the last significant change to the National Labor Relations Act, we are overdue for an update to our labor laws to protect workers’ right to join and form a union and bargain collectively for higher wages, better benefits, and a safe workplace.
“While our ways of working and our workforce may have changed, the need for workers to be able to join together and have a voice in their wages and working conditions—without fear—remains as important as ever,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks. “Our labor laws are overdue for an update. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only made this need more clear, and more urgent.”
Over the past year, while workers struggled through the most unequal economic crisis in modern history—and women, workers of color, workers with disabilities, and workers with low incomes disproportionately lost jobs and wages—the top one percent gained about $10 trillion in wealth. In her opening remarks, Senator Murray stressed that unions are critical to addressing this growing income inequality, highlighting that union workers are paid more, have better benefits, have safer workplaces, and are treated with respect and dignity.
But despite the myriad ways unions help workers, Senator Murray noted that barriers to joining and forming unions have been growing for decades. Too often, corporations misclassify workers, use complicated contracts and subcontracts, and undermine union elections to prevent workers from joining together and bargaining collectively. Senator Murray made clear that in order to protect workers, we need to update our labor laws by passing the PRO Act, a bill she re-introduced earlier this year alongside Rep. Bobby Scott.
“As we work to rebuild our economy in the aftermath of this pandemic, our work must include steps to finally update our labor laws in order to protect and empower workers,” Senator Murray continued. “Because we know our economy is stronger when working families are stronger, and working families are stronger when unions are stronger. That’s why I reintroduced the PRO Act earlier this year—and am pushing hard to get it across the finish line.”
The hearing included testimony from Mr. Mark Gaston Pearce, Executive Director of the Workers’ Rights Institute, Dr. Heidi Shierholz, Senior Economist and Director of Policy at the Economic Policy Institute, Mrs. Gracie Heldman, a worker from Pandora, OH, and Ms. Jyoti Sarolia, Principal & Managing Partner at Ellis Hospitality.
Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
“Today’s hearing is long overdue.
“We’ve been through four years of attacks on workers’ rights from the previous Administration.
“It’s been twelve years since the minimum wage was last raised.
“And it’s been over 70 years since the National Labor Relations Act—the cornerstone of our nation’s labor laws—was significantly updated.
“Seventy years ago, there was no internet, approximately one third of women participated in the labor force, racial segregation was allowed under the law, and the average retirement age—and average life expectancy—were both around 68 years.
“While our ways of working and our workforce may have changed, the need for workers to be able to join together and have a voice in their wages and working conditions—without fear—remains as important as ever.
“Our labor laws are overdue for an update.
“And the COVID-19 pandemic has only made this need more clear, and more urgent.
“This crisis has changed a lot over the last year and half—but it has also shown us how much needs to change.
“This past year we witnessed the most unequal economic crisis in modern history unfold as women, workers of color, workers with disabilities, and workers with low incomes disproportionately lost jobs, wages, and more.
“We witnessed how important it is workers have paid family, sick, and medical leave, a livable wage, and quality, affordable child care and health coverage.
“We witnessed growing inequality as millions of people lost jobs last year, all while the top one percent gained about $10 trillion in wealth.
“And increasing wealth inequality wasn’t a pandemic-only phenomenon—it has been happening for decades.
“And all this gave us an important reminder of the difference unions, and the right to organize and collectively bargain, make in countering this kind of extreme inequality.
“Here’s what unions mean: unions mean higher wages.
“In 2020, nonunion workers were paid about 84 cents per dollar compared to union workers.
“Unions mean better benefits.
“For example, union workers are more likely to have paid sick days, and while only around two thirds of nonunion workers can get a retirement plan, health care plan, and prescription drug coverage through their employer over nine-in-ten union workers had these benefits—and union workers were also almost twice as likely to have the option of an employer sponsored dental plan.
“Unions also mean safer workplaces.
“Unions work hard to educate members about their rights to a safe workplace—and as a result, unionized workplaces are much more likely to be held accountable for health and safety violations.
“And perhaps one of the most important aspects of union representation is—knowing you have other workers in your corner to help make sure you’re treated with respect and dignity in the workplace, knowing you’ve got backup to help make sure you will not only be paid fairly, but also treated fairly.
“In short: unions mean workers—who are the ones truly making our economy run—have better wages and benefits that help them support their families and live their lives.
“That’s why I’m proud Washington state has the fifth highest rate of union membership in the nation.
“But unfortunately for workers across the country, barriers to workers seeking to form or join a union have been mounting in recent years.
“We’ve seen employers try—and at times succeed—at misclassifying workers to deny them their rights, preventing workers from organizing and collectively bargaining through complicated contracts and subcontracts, and undermining union elections in too many ways to count.
“Meanwhile, efforts at the National Labor Relations Board to educate workers about their rights and enforce worker protections have dwindled particularly as Republicans have worked to skew the Board against workers in recent years.
“I’m hopeful the new NLRB nominees that have come before our Committee recently will help us start to fix this, because the results of this campaign against worker’s rights have been deeply damaging—especially in light of this pandemic.
“Right now, only one-in-eight essential workers is represented under a collective bargaining agreement.
“And some of the highest-risk industries during this pandemic—health care, food, and agriculture—have the lowest unionization rates.
“Stronger organizing and collective bargaining rights could have helped change the trajectory of this pandemic and saved lives by ensuring workplace safety was a priority, more workers had paid sick days, and more workers had the wages and benefits they needed to stay economically secure—like quality, affordable health care, and a reliable retirement plan.
“In short, the pandemic made it clearer than ever—we’ve got to make it easier for workers to exercise their right to collectively bargain, and for unions to fight for the people they represent.
“Doing so will help us build our economy back stronger, in a way that works for families and communities, not just those at the very top, and it will help us build back fairer—as data show union memberships reflects the racial, ethnic, gender, and age diversity of America’s workforce.
“Almost half of workers represented by a union are women, and nearly four-in-ten union members are workers of color.
“When it comes to addressing racial inequities, data show Black union workers earn on average 16 percent more than their nonunionized counterparts.
“When it comes to the gender pay gap, women who are not represented by a union are paid 78 cents on the dollar compared to men, but women who are represented by union are paid 94 cents on the dollar.
“And when it comes to creating more inclusive workplaces for people with disabilities union-covered workers, in general, are more likely than non-union employees to request accommodations—regardless of disability status.
“As we work to rebuild our economy in the aftermath of this pandemic, our work must include steps to finally update our labor laws in order to protect and empower workers.
“Because we know our economy is stronger when working families are stronger, and working families are stronger when unions are stronger.
“That’s why I reintroduced the PRO Act earlier this year—and am pushing hard to get it across the finish line.
“But we can’t stop there. We need to raise the minimum wage, provide a comprehensive paid leave program, and so much more.
“It’s also why I supported the unionization vote of Amazon workers in Alabama, and I support the continued fight for unionization of Amazon workers in Washington state and workers across our country.
“And, it’s why we are having this hearing today.
“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how we finally bring the NLRA into the 21st century.
“And how we ensure every worker is able to form or join a union so they can bargain for better wages, better benefits, and a safer workplace in which they are treated with respect.”
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