Biden Labor Plan Promises to Strengthen Unions, Expand Employer Liability

November 01, 2019

Although former Vice President Joe Biden is sometimes portrayed as being closer to the center in the field of presidential candidates, his labor plan released last week keeps him firmly on the left as far as workplace policy is concerned.

Biden has a long history of championing labor causes.  As Vice President, he proposed linking federal contracts to labor law compliance, an idea that he promises to revive as President.  He also had a solid pro-labor voting record as Senator and was a cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act (a.k.a. “card check”), which he also promises to press for from the White House.

Comprehensive agenda:  Biden’s agenda outlines several specific proposals that reflect the congressional Democratic leadership’s agenda, including the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), a substantial overhaul of American labor laws.  Among Biden's other noteworthy policy ideas:

  • Holding corporate executives “personally accountable” for violations of labor laws, including criminal liability for intentional violations;

  • Establishing “a federal right to union organizing and collective bargaining for all public sector employees, and mak[ing] it easier for those employees who serve our communities to both join a union and bargain;"

  • Creating “a cabinet-level working group that will solely focus on promoting union organizing and collective bargaining in the public and private sectors…The group will consider whether there are very specific areas where the federal government could waive preemption of the National Labor Relations Act to allow cities and states to pursue innovative ways to increase union organizing and collective bargaining without undermining current workers protections, like allowing for neutrality agreements and card check;”

  • Giving employees a right to engage in “intermittent strikes” as an alternative to single strikes that typically last until the parties reach agreement or the union calls off the strike (in addition to the other provisions in the PRO Act, expanding strike protections);

  • Providing independent contractors with a right to organize and bargain collectively, even when they are properly classified (while also narrowing the definition of independent contractors along the lines of California’s so-called “ABC test”); and

  • Eliminating non-compete and no-poaching agreements “except the very few that are absolutely necessary to protect a narrowly defined category of trade secrets."

Why it's important:  As Democratic presidential candidates continue to differentiate themselves on the ideological continuum, former Vice President Biden’s proposal illustrates that there is very little difference among them on labor issues.  Similarly, in the key workplace regulation agencies—DOL, the NLRB and the EEOC—the expected appointments by any of the candidates are unlikely to vary substantially in their viewpoints.