President Biden signed an executive order on Monday creating a White House task force to promote labor organizing, an attempt to use the power of the federal government to reverse a decades-long decline in union membership.
The task force, to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and populated by cabinet officials and top White House advisers, will issue recommendations on how the government can use existing authority to help workers join labor unions and bargain collectively. It will also recommend new policies aimed at achieving these goals.
The administration noted that the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law governing federal labor rights, explicitly sought to encourage collective bargaining, but that the law had never been fully carried out in this regard. “No previous administration has taken a comprehensive approach to determining how the executive branch can advance worker organizing and collective bargaining,” a White House statement declared.
Unions have lobbied for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would prohibit employers from holding mandatory anti-union meetings and impose financial penalties for violating workers’ labor rights. (Workers can currently receive only so-called make-whole remedies, like back pay.) The House passed the measure in March and Mr. Biden supports the legislation, but it faces long odds in the Senate.
signed a handful of executive orders that sought to rein in union protections and bargaining rights for federal employees. The unions challenged the orders in court, and Mr. Biden revoked them shortly after taking office.
It is not entirely clear what kind of support the federal government could provide to workers seeking to organize short of changing the law, though some labor experts have argued that Mr. Biden and his appointees could use administrative action to allow workers to bargain on an industrywide basis, known as sectoral bargaining. That would make it less necessary to win union elections work site by work site, as is often the case today.
Seth Harris, a White House labor adviser, said the task force would explore the administration’s ability to increase unionization through federal procurement law, which requires the president to promote efficiency in government contracts.
“The simple fact of the matter is having a unionized work force means they are going to be paid more, they are more likely to be more productive, more likely to stay for a long time,” Mr. Harris said. “You’ll have more skilled, more experienced workers working on government procurement. You don’t have the same labor strife.”
labor leaders regarded Mr. Biden as the most pro-union president in generations. They cited his quick ouster of Trump appointees they regarded as anti-labor, the tens of billions of dollars for shoring up union pension plans enacted in his pandemic relief bill and a video message during a recent union campaign at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama warning employers not to coerce or threaten workers who are deciding whether to unionize.
Many union advocates have compared him favorably with his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who they complained was loath to support unions vocally.
The task force comes at a particularly frustrating moment for organized labor. Roughly two-thirds of Americans approve of unions, according to a 2020 Gallup poll, but just over 6 percent of private-sector workers belong to them.
Many union officials have cited the loss in the election at Amazon, whose results were announced this month, as an illustration of the need to reform labor law and develop new organizing strategies.
Mr. Biden’s task force will solicit the views of union leaders, academics and labor advocates and is to deliver its recommendations within 180 days.