Sanders calls for overhaul of labor law

Sanders calls for overhaul of labor law
© Cameron Lancaster

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders on women's march: Trump 'made a big mistake' Trump speaks with top Dem about high drug prices Sanders supports women marchers with tweet MORE (I-Vt.) unveiled sweeping new legislation that will make it easier for workers to organize unions in a bid Tuesday to endear himself to the labor community ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

“Our job is to make it easier for workers to join unions, not harder," Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic nomination, told dozens of cheering low-wage workers outside the Capitol.

“If workers in this country want to exercise their constitutional right to join a union, they must be allowed to do that,” he added.

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The Workplace Democracy Act would allow employees to form a union through the controversial card check process, as opposed to holding a secret-ballot election.

Card check allows employees to sign an anonymous card saying they want to join a union. Once more than half of a company’s employees sign the card, the union must be recognized, even without an election being held.

Labor advocates say this reduces the opportunity for companies to discourage workers from joining.

Currently, employees must hold a secret-ballot election in order to form a union. This gives companies more opportunity to intimidate employees between the time the election is announced and the vote takes place, critics say.

Many companies do not treat employees fairly during the organizing process, Sanders said. Half of all companies threaten to close or relocate if workers elect to join a union, while 1 in 5 employees who try to organize a union is fired, according to Sanders.

"We will no longer tolerate CEOs who fire workers for exercising their constitutional right to form a union,” Sanders said. "We will no longer tolerate CEOs who threaten to move their plants to China or other low-wage countries, if workers vote in favor of a union. We will no longer tolerate CEOs and managers who intimidate or threaten pro-union workers.”

Sanders is also pushing separate legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and save union pension plans from becoming insolvent — two moves that could play well for him as he competes against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for support from the labor community in the Democratic presidential primaries.

The Workplace Democracy Act has eight Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate, including Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.).

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) is introducing a companion bill in the House.

The legislation seems to mirror a similar workers’ rights bill introduced last month by Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), which would increase penalties for companies that retaliate against workers for organizing.