Congratulations, Marty Walsh, on your new job as US Secretary of Labor! We’ll miss you here in Dorchester as a neighbor and as our mayor, but we are excited to know that a Boston union veteran will represent the interests of workers in Joe Biden’s cabinet. And we’re hoping you will lead with big and prompt actions to address the needs of a US working class that has been battered by rising inequality, unchecked corporate power, and the decline in numbers and clout of labor unions.
Here’s an agenda for you to press for with your new boss. I call it The American Workers Bill of Rights.
1. The right to a raise. It is a disgrace that the current $7.25 minimum wage has not been raised for more than 11 years, while prices and the cost of living have soared. US workers – especially those at the bottom of the wage scale – badly need a raise. Experience shows that raising the minimum wage has a positive effect on workers’ earnings across the board. We expect you to push the Biden Administration to make it an urgent priority for a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour, implemented immediately, with a provision for automatic increases in line with inflation. It would be great if some Republicans supported this measure, but you and your boss should say loudly and publicly that if Republicans oppose a $15 minimum wage, they should be made to face the consequences with their voters. Raising the minimum wage is overwhelmingly popular in red as well as blue states.
2. The right to a decent, secure job. End trade and tax policies that directly or indirectly subsidize corporate removal of jobs to low-wage regions. Enforce and strengthen plant-closing legislation so that eliminating jobs will be more costly to businesses. Launch major public works investments that will create millions of good-paying jobs and improve our crumbling infrastructure, while also moving us toward a more energy-efficient and sustainable economy. Legally recognize that so-called gig workers have the same rights as other employees.
3. The right to belong to a union. A weakened labor movement has become less able to redress the balance of power that lets corporations keep wages and benefits down. Make it public policy to support workers’ rights to organize without fear of retaliation and to bargain on a level playing field with employers. Make appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) so that it is tilted toward labor, not corporate rights.
Legislate against state “Right to Work” laws – which union members understand as “The Right to Work for Less” – that discriminate against and weaken unions.
4. The right to safety at work and healthcare at home. Bolster funding and enforcement for OSHA. Enforce environmental laws to protect communities from irresponsible corporate polluters. Legislate nationwide paid family and sick leave (and minimum standards for vacation time). Ensure universal access to affordable public health insurance so workers are not tied to a job to keep their health coverage.
5. The right to equal pay and ending job discrimination. Employment and wage discrimination against women, people of color, and immigrants puts downward pressure on compensation for all workers. Vigorous enforcement of wage and hour laws, equal pay for equal work, and ending the super-exploitation of immigrant workers, (documented and undocumented) will benefit working people as a whole.
Measures like these would directly improve the lives of millions of Americans in our diverse and racially mixed working class. They are also the best way to avoid a resurgence of Trumpism. Other initiatives – protecting voting rights and limiting corporate money in politics -- would have an indirect effect in democratizing our political system and in giving a stronger voice to workers’ concerns in our elections and in Congress.
This is an ambitious agenda, but one that has broad majority support around the country.
Marty, stay true to your working class and union roots in D.C. We need your leadership in keeping the interests of US workers out front. We know...You Can Do It!
Jeff Klein is a retired local union president who lives in Dorchester. He has known Mayor Walsh for more than 25 years.