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White House

20 Things Biden Has Done to Help Unions

He has repealed & issued new Executive Orders & appointed union leaders to run the Department of Labor

Brian Young's picture
Feb 16, 2021

Nearly a month into his Presidency, President Joe Biden has already taken some big actions to help working people. Some of them have gotten a lot of attention while others have been done quietly. With a lot of other news coming out of Washington over the last few weeks, UCOMM decided to put together a list of 20 things that Biden has done to help unions and working people in just his first month in office.

Firings and Appointments

Fired Peter Robb- Robb was Trump’s General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Back in the 1980’s, Robb was a key player in busting the PATCO union and brought that same anti-union spirit to the NLRB. In his time in office, Robb tried to end neutrality agreements and make inflatable rats, like Scabby, illegal. Robb was fired just hours after Biden took the oath of office. After firing Robb, he also fired Robb’s deputy who had become the acting General Counsel.

Appointed Peter Ohr Acting NLRB General Counsel- After firing Robb, Ohr was a regional director for the NLRB before being promoted to Acting Counsel and has a long history of pro-worker decisions. He took immediate action to overturn some of Robb’s decisions, many of which will show up later on this list.

Appointed Marty Walsh to lead the Department of Labor- Walsh, the Mayor of Boston, was previously a union leader with Laborers Local 223 and the head of the Boston Metropolitan District building Trades Council. His selection was praised for putting a union leader in charge of the Department of Labor.

Appointed Julie Su Deputy Secretary of Labor- Su, the current California Labor Secretary, was appointed to be Walsh’s second in command. Su was being pushed by many Asian American legislators for her work with low wage and immigrant workers. One of her biggest cases involved helping 72 enslaved Thai garment workers win a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against clothing companies.

Biden Fires More Trumpers in US DOL- Biden’s quest to rid the government of Trump’s anti-union appointees continued with his decision to get rid of the ten members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP). This panel decides contract disputes between federal unions and the government. It was stacked with anti-union picks that included people from ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, and someone from a union-busting law firm. Biden gave the 10 appointees the chance to resign, which eight did, before the other two were fired.  With these appointees on the board, the government won 90% of the cases that came before the FSIP.

New appointments to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)- Biden promoted Charlotte Burrows and Jocelyn Samuels to serve as chair and vice-chair on the commission. Burrows has a long history of fighting for civil rights and working with immigrant communities, while Samuels has worked for years on policies to attain equality for sexual and gender minorities.

Made a union attorney Chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA)- Biden promoted Ernest Dubster to be the chairman of the FLRA which oversees disputes between the federal government and federal unions. Dubster previously worked as a union attorney, legislative counsel for the AFL-CIO, and a law professor teaching collective bargaining and arbitration.

Selected a Steelworker to lead OSHA- Biden’s pick to lead the safety department is James Fredrick who worked for 25 years in the United Steelworkers’ health, safety, and environment department. After leaving the Steelworkers in 2019 he became a part-time safety consultant who advised companies on safety compliance.

Picked Jessica Looman to lead the Wage and Hour Division- Looman was the Executive Director of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council before she was selected. She also previously worked as general counsel for the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. In between, she served as the deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

Biden picks a teacher to run the Education Department- After four years of Betsy DeVos, Biden promised that he would put a teacher in charge of the Education Department, and he fulfilled that promise with the selection of Miguel Cardona. The former education commissioner for Connecticut, Cardona worked as an elementary school teacher, before becoming a principal, a position he held for 10 years. Cardona would go on to become a district administrator and deputy superintendent before becoming state education Commissioner. His pick was praised by teachers’ unions.

Executive Orders

Repealed Union-Busting Executive Orders- These Executive Orders, signed by Trump in 2018, kicked unions out of their collectively bargained offices in federal buildings, limited union release time, and instituted one sided contracts onto a number of agencies. Repealing these orders was a top priority of federal unions and President Biden repealed them on his second day in office.

Ordered OSHA to create a COVID safety standard- Unions fought for a COVID safety standard for nearly a year, with the AFL-CIO even suing Trump to create one. On Day 1, Biden signed an Executive Order that directed OSHA to put a standard in place. This will not only create a uniform standard for safety during COVID, but it will also allow workers a new avenue to protect themselves from bosses who refuse to put proper safety procedures in place.

Biden Strengthens Buy American Provisions- Five days into office, Biden signed an Executive Order that directed the federal government to strengthen their Buy American standards. This required more of the product to be made in the USA, cut red tape for buying these items, and made it easier for new small and medium sized manufacturers to get federal contracts. The government spends about $600 billion a year on American made products and is expected to add another $400 billion as part of Biden’s Build Back Better program.

A $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors- Biden signed an Executive Order that ordered the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to establish a $15 minimum wage for all federal contractors.

Allow Federal Unions to Bargain Again- Biden signed an Executive Order telling agencies to “bargain over permissible, non-mandatory subjects of bargaining when contracts are up for negotiation.” This gives federal unions the ability to have a voice on more issues than just the basic work rules and pay. It is especially important with COVID, since many federal unions were shut out of any process to protect their members at work.

Ordered an end to federal private prisons- Biden issued an order that the government stop contracting with private prisons, a for profit venture that reduces wages and takes jobs from union corrections officers. According to AFGE, which represents prison employees with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, federal workers housing prisoners are “more cost effective, more efficient and much safer than their for-profit counterparts.”

Reinstated federal diversity and inclusion training- Biden repealed a Trump order that banned the use of federal funds for these trainings for federal workers and contractors, an effort that was supported by AFGE. “Diversity and inclusion programs help employees understand each other’s perspectives and help employers build workplaces that treat everyone with dignity, fairness, and respect, regardless of their background,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “By revoking the previous administration’s order eliminating such trainings, President Biden is affirming his commitment to advancing equity across the federal government and providing everyone with an opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Instituted a federal mask mandate for everyone in involved in interstate travel- This mask mandate includes everyone who is flying, taking a train like Amtrak, or a bus like Greyhound. While many carriers already had these mandates in effect, this order allows the carriers to remove a customer from and issue a temporary or permanent travel ban for refusing to wear a mask. It provides some much-needed backup after a number of videos went viral of flight attendants pleading with customers to wear a mask and being forced to kick them off flights for not wearing a mask.

Signed an Executive Order allowing workers to refuse dangerous work- In an executive order, Biden ordered the Department of Labor to issue a guidance that clarifies that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that puts their health in danger, like COVID-19, and still qualify for unemployment insurance.

Announced his support for the PRO Act- This was actually done during the campaign, but with the PRO Act being reintroduced in the Congress, Biden’s support is a powerful tool in helping to ensure that all of the Democratic Senators support the bill. You can find out more about the PRO Act by clicking here.

These are just some of the things that President Biden has done in his first three weeks in office. While it is a good start, Biden has a lot more on his agenda to be completed over the next 47 months, including a major infrastructure project, COVID relief and stimulus, a minimum wage hike, and the passage of the PRO Act.

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