The new Democratic House should make worker empowerment a priority

For the first time in nearly a decade, Democrats will hold the majority in the House when Congress convenes in January. The results of yesterday’s election are encouraging and represent historic progress—with a record number of women winning seats in the house, including key victories by diverse candidates across faiths and ethnicities. And importantly, Democrats won the popular vote in the House by a 9.2 percent margin despite today’s 3.7 percent unemployment rate, which should have provide great advantage to the incumbent party.

It is nevertheless important to note that with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House, it is unlikely that policies that promote a just economy for working people will become law. Still, House Democrats have the opportunity to advance long overdue reforms. It is critical that they focus on an agenda that serves our nation’s workers. This must include House Democrats working to raise workers’ wages, restore workers’ access to justice on the job, and promote workers’ right to collectively bargain.

Workers deserve a fair minimum wage. At $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum wage is now more than 25 percent below where it was in real terms half a century ago. House Democrats must advance legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, indexing it to the national median wage thereafter, and phasing out the tipped minimum wage and other subminimum wages. Given inflation expectations, $15 in 2024 would be around $13.00 in 2018 dollars, an appropriate level for the federal floor. The Raise the Wage Act introduced this Congress included all of these reforms. The House must work to pass similar legislation in the new Congress.

Workers should not be forced to sign away their rights as a condition of employment. The use of mandatory arbitration and collective and class action waivers—under which workers are forced to handle workplace disputes as individuals through arbitration, rather than being able to resolve these matters together in court—makes it more difficult for workers to enforce their rights. These agreements bar access to the courts for all types of employment-related claims, including those based on the Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act. This means that a worker who is not paid fairly, discriminated against, or sexually harassed, is forced into a process that overwhelmingly favors the employer—and forced to manage this process alone, even though these issues are rarely confined to one single worker. Congress must act to ban mandatory arbitration agreements and class and collective action waivers. The Restoring Justice for Workers Act introduced this Congress includes all of these reforms. The House should work to pass this important reform in the new Congress.

Workers must have strong collective bargaining rights. A recent poll found that 60 percent of adults have a favorable view of labor unions. However, as of 2017, only 10.7 percent of wage and salary workers were union members. This disconnect is the result of decades of fierce opposition to unions and collective bargaining, with employers exploiting loopholes in outdated labor law to defeat workers’ organizing efforts, while corporate lobbyists have blocked attempts at reform. We know unions are a significant force for a fair economy by examining the impact of their decline since the 1970s. As unions have declined, inequality between middle- and high-wage workers has grown. Congress must work to revitalize workers’ right to join a union and collectively bargain. The Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act introduced this Congress includes many critical reforms to our nation’s labor law that would help to restore collective bargaining rights and provide workers a meaningful voice in the workplace. The House should consider this legislation in the new Congress.

The current legal and political framework favors corporate interests dedicated to rolling back worker protections and advancing business practices that leave fewer and fewer workers covered by existing laws. Democratic leadership in the House has the chance to show our nation’s workers that they will fight to change this rigged system and promote policies that work for our nation’s workers. Legislation has already been developed that would provide important reforms. A Democratic majority in the House can and should advance an agenda that includes these legislative initiatives and use their power to ensure that our national debate involves workers’ voices.