Josh Coleman was an all-star employee at T-Mobile. But when he became involved with TU—the union of T-Mobile workers—his company started treating him differently. A corporate vice president showed up at Coleman’s workplace while he was wearing a union t-shirt and took away his prize trip for being a top performer. Coleman was then fired without cause. T-Mobile eventually settled with Coleman but their message to other workers was clear—take collective action at your own risk.
How are companies like T-Mobile able to be so shameless in their anti-worker activity? Because the penalties for interfering with workers’ rights are ridiculously weak. There are no financial penalties for employers who break the law, and there are no monetary damages for workers who are illegally fired or retaliated against for exercising their rights. As a result, employers view the meager penalties associated with suppressing collective action as the mere cost of doing business. That is why the labor movement strongly supports the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act, much needed labor law reform legislation recently introduced by Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 CDC leader faces precarious political moment Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary MORE (D-Wash.) and Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottProposed Virginia maps put rising-star House Democrats at risk Industry, labor groups at odds over financial penalties in spending package Historically Black colleges and universities could see historic funding under Biden plan MORE (D-Va.).
Collective action is on the rise in America. From auto plants to car washes. From Walmart to fast food. From Delta to T-Mobile. Working people are standing up for good pay, great benefits, and a voice on the job. So why, even with all of this enthusiasm, are working people still faced with so many challenges? It’s simple—employers are rigging the process.
The WAGE Act asserts in no uncertain terms that workers’ rights are civil rights. It would put corporations who abuse working people on notice that there will be real penalties for breaking the law. No more nonexistent fines. No more endless delays. Real, swift, and consequential penalties for violating workers’ rights.
It does this through a number of significant reforms like establishing hefty fines against employers who break the law, tripling back pay awards and guaranteeing them regardless of a worker’s immigration status, and allowing victims of retaliation to seek damages in court.
In each of these key areas, the WAGE Act is a dramatic improvement from current law. It recognizes that protecting and promoting workers’ rights requires a comprehensive approach that must truly reflect the nature of an economy where the ladder of opportunity has slipped out of reach for far too many families.
You don’t need to be an economist to know that the current economic rules are not working for most Americans. The very best way to raise wages and turn the tide back in favor of working people is to protect and strengthen their right to speak out together, whether they are seeking to form a union or not. The WAGE Act would do exactly that.
This legislation is for the low-wage worker struggling to pay the bills. It’s for the tradesman who wants to gain more skills and advance his career. It’s for the single mother who wants a fair and reliable schedule so she can take care of her children. It’s for the young worker who wants a brighter future, the immigrant worker who wants to make their voice heard, the worker of color who wants to be treated with dignity and respect, and the working woman who wants equal pay for equal work.
All across America, working people like this are coming together to ask for their fair share. They are doing it with a collective voice. In response, employers are gaming the system to protect their own bottom lines. They are illegally firing and retaliating against workers who stand up and speak out and nothing in our current laws is compelling them to stop. Enough is enough.
The WAGE Act is a bold and necessary first step toward long overdue labor law reform. Make no mistake. It does not address all the hurdles working men and women face when joining together on the job. But it would strengthen workers’ rights, hold corporations accountable, and make the process fairer for working people. Congress should pass it without delay.
Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO.