USA SENATOR Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for the 2020 presidential election, is gaining the support of nurses, teachers and McDonald’s fast food workers.
Last Wednesday, Sanders introduced the Workplace Democracy Bill, for a new law that would protect workers from being fired for trade union organisation.
The bill, introduced by Sanders in the Senate, would substantially increased penalties for employers who illegally dismiss workers for union organising.
It would also greatly simplify and streamline the process for initiating legal action against such employers.
Today, employers do not pay punitive fines for firing workers for participation in union drives.
Instead, they simply pay the difference between what a worker earned in their next job and what they would have made had they kept their job.
The result is that in most cases, settlements would only amount to a few thousand dollars, and even then only after litigation dragging on for years.
Union activists are expressing optimism about the prospects of the bill.
‘The mood of the country has shifted a lot, look at the teachers’ strike,’ said Jean Ross, co-president of the National Nurses United. ‘There is a belief now that taking to the streets does do some good.’
Sanders’ Workplace Democracy Act would allow workers to form unions by simply accumulating a majority of signatures from fellow employees.
Currently, workers may only form unions after signing a petition for an election and then frequently waiting months before the actual election occurs.
During that time, employers often aggressively work to dissuade unionisation, threatening workers with substantial consequences.
In addition, the Workplace Democracy Act, would compel companies to submit to arbitration if a union and the employer are unable to reach a contract after an initial 90 days of bargaining.
‘I think (the teachers’ strikes) are reverberating throughout the country,’ said Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ top policy aide.
Sanders also spoke to striking McDonald’s workers from across the US via a video link last Thursday as they peacefully protested outside the company’s shareholders meeting at a DFW Airport hotel.
The workers, who travelled to North Texas from across the country, demanded better pay and working conditions.
They asked to meet with McDonald’s representatives, who were meeting in a secluded conference room at the Grand Hyatt Hotel inside the airport’s Terminal D, but were turned away by security.
‘I make $8.50 an hour. Nothing has changed in nine years,’ said Rita Blalock, who travelled to the Metroplex from Raleigh, N.C.
Blalock says she receives government assistance to make ends meet with her limited salary.
Another protestor, Tanya Harrell, added: ‘For years, we have been bringing to light problems the workers have been facing – sexual violence, sexual harassment.’
The McDonald’s workers, part of the Fight for $15 campaign attempting to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, obeyed directions from security officials not to chant inside the hotel lobby or the terminal.
They stood mostly quietly outside the conference room area, then walked en masse outside the airport terminal and engaged in chants on the sidewalk, passing out informational pamphlets to passers-by.
Moments before the group’s march to the McDonald’s meeting, the group ‘virtually’ met with Sanders in a video question and answer session.
Sanders backed their demands for better pay and union representation.
‘We live in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, but tens of millions of workers don’t know that because they’re working long hours for low wages,’ Sanders told the crowd during the video exchange.
Members of the group said McDonald’s workers walked off the job in cities across the United States, including: Chicago; Des Moines, Iowa; Detroit; Durham, N.C.; Houston; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Miami; Milwaukee; Orlando; St. Louis and Tampa.
At DFW, some of the protestors flew in from North Carolina, Florida and other states – and others arrived by bus from Houston.
There were no known incidents of McDonald’s workers striking in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Last Thursday’s action came days after the campaign ‘Fight for $15 and a Union’ announced a new round of sexual-harassment charges and lawsuits against McDonald’s.
In a press release, the campaign said the strikes also mark the launch of Fight for $15 2020, ‘a worker-led effort to push candidates to embrace unions as the best way to tackle inequality and fight racism.’
The Fight for $15 campaign is not a union, but it demands one for low-wage workers, and is supported by the Service Employees International Union. Its strategy for 2020 in some ways mirrors the endorsement processes rolled out by the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
The campaign says it will hold town hall meetings in early primary states and host ‘walk-a-days,’ where candidates will ‘will experience a day in the life’ of McDonald’s workers.
Fight for $15’s 2020 programme will deploy organisers in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, and New Hampshire, and plans to hold protests at the first two Democratic debates.
A voter-engagement programme will launch in Michigan and Wisconsin, among other ‘key battleground states,’ the campaign says.
Claire Sandberg, the national organising director for the Sanders campaign, said: ‘As Bernie says, this is not just a campaign, it’s a movement. We’re building the largest volunteer army in the nation not just to win the Democratic nomination, but also to mobilise people to show up in key fights where people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line.
‘We are proud to uphold Bernie’s commitment to workers and we will continue to activate our supporters and urge them to join picket lines across the country to support the fight for a strong labour movement.’
Bleu Rainer, a McDonald’s worker who is based in Tampa, Florida, said: ‘We’ve had these same demands since 2012, when people thought we were crazy.
‘They thought that we would never receive the victory that we have received so far. And it’s only happened because workers like myself got up in the street, went on strike, did everything they can do, did whatever it took to get our rights and get $15 an hour because our families couldn’t survive on anything less.
‘We want to make sure that every candidate in 2020 understands how serious we are about getting union rights and higher wages to work in this nation.’