But that doesn’t mean these benefits are unattainable.
It is instructive to see how other benefits, such as 40 hour work week, have been achieved. Early lobbying efforts for a federal law failed. Labor protests and strikes followed. One state, Illinois, passed a law mandating an eight-hour workday. Other protests followed. The mining and printing industries then adopted the 40-hour week. Other workers’ demonstrations followed. Then Ford Motor Company adopted a 40-hour week. It was only after all this that Congress passed a law limiting the workweek to 40 hours.
In the wake of the collapse of the Build Back Better package, progressives should end their fixation on passing legislation through Congress. Instead, they should go to state legislatures and individual employers.
The good news for workers is that the country is already experiencing a mini-surge in unionization. The Post reports: “The unorthodox but incredibly successful organizing campaign by Amazon employees in New York City has been propelled by a burst of new energy from many groups of workers, who have emerged from the coronavirus pandemic with new tactics and an advantage. Employees at a number of other Amazon warehouses are expected to try to replicate the success workers at a Staten Island factory had on Friday. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)
This follows successful organizing drives by teachers in red school districts, teaching assistants at several colleges and employees at a handful of Starbucks locations. Many of the latter labor campaigns have been grassroots employee-led campaigns.
The new Amazon Labor Union won victory on Staten Island, not with the help of traditional labor giants such as the Teamsters Union. Instead, The New York Times reportsAmazon organizers “relyed almost entirely on current and former workers rather than professional organizers. . . [and] have turned to GoFundMe appeals rather than union coffers built from dues from existing members. It was an intensive, person-to-person effort using everything from social media to employee barbecues to win the support of workers.
Given the success of these campaigns, major unions and progressive politicians (whose appearance in a failed Amazon organizing effort in Alabama proved ineffective) might want to stay away. Instead, progressive groups and donors can provide financial support.
These do-it-yourself labor campaigns can negotiate many benefits that Congress has failed to deliver, including paid time off, subsidized child care, community college vouchers (for employees and their families) and a reduction in co-payments and employee health deductibles. healthcare coverage. They may pursue other goals such as improving access to vote by offering paid time off to vote or requiring employers to provide voter registration forms to new employees.
Even if not all of the company’s facilities are unionized, large employers might find it illogical to deprive workers of the benefits that unions at other facilities have won. (In effect, it just begs them to organize as well.) And as we’ve seen with $15 minimum wages, once big employers take the plunge with improved wages or benefits , others will be forced to do the same to attract employees. State and local government laws often follow.
Plus, workers can turn to friendly state capitals in California, Massachusetts and elsewhere to advance worker benefits. Paid vacation of some sort has passed in 30 states. Lobbying efforts can focus on improving existing laws. Campaigns for the same gains in neighboring states may follow. At some point, the reactionary labor laws of red states become a competitive disadvantage.
In sum, progressives would do well to tout Amazon’s example and reap the benefits of federalism. Admittedly, such an approach would be time-consuming and costly. Nor would it give national politicians the limelight they might dream of. But this strategy can move the ball forward for American workers. That’s the point, after all.