(CN) – Former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a plan Friday to help workers unionize in his ongoing attempt to appeal to the American middle class and secure the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
Biden’s plan sets out a vision to “check the abuse of corporate power over labor” through a series of initiatives that include punishing companies that interfere with labor organizing, providing a federal guarantee for public employees to bargain for better pay and benefits, extending the right to organize to independent contractors and eliminating the mandatory arbitration provision in employee contracts.
“There’s a war on organizing, collective bargaining, unions and workers,” the Biden campaign said statement Friday. “It’s been raging for decades, and it’s getting worse with Donald Trump in the White House.”
In an era of income inequality, many prominent economists blame the diminished sway of organized labor and its ability to advocate for higher pay for the working class and middle class.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only 10% of workers in the United States belonged to a union in 2015, compared to about 20% in 1983.
Private sector unions involve just 7% of the workforce, levels not seen in the United States since 1932.
Both numbers are extremely low compared to the rest of the world. In Canada, about 26% of the workforce is unionized. In Scandinavian countries, it’s far higher: about two-thirds of workers in Sweden (67%) belong to a union, which Iceland has the highest rate at 91%.
Income inequality is not as much of a problem in countries with higher union membership, although economists remain at odds over whether that represents correlation versus causation.
Biden made it clear Friday that his campaign believes the diminution of union power in the United States has hurt workers.
He promised to punish CEOs individually for interfering in the organization process. Such a provision would hurt the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has been repeatedly accused of union-busting in recent years.
The plan calls for going after companies that intentionally misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid paying salaries and benefits.
The bulk of Biden’s plan is attuned to making it easier for workers to organize and collectively bargain directly with those in the company who hold sway over salary decisions. Biden calls for a federal law that will render the “right to work” anti-labor state laws moot, while strengthening the National Labor Relations Board and appointing a cabinet member with the specific focus on labor issues.
“States have decimated the rights of public sector workers who, unlike private sector workers, do not have federal protections ensuring their freedom to organize and collectively bargain,” the Biden campaign said Friday. “In the private sector, corporations are using profits to buy back their own shares and increase CEOs’ compensation instead of investing in their workers and creating more good-quality jobs.”
The culmination has led to a weakened position for the working man and woman in America, Biden said.
“The results have been predictable: rising income inequality, stagnant real wages, the loss of pensions, exploitation of workers, and a weakening of workers’ voices in our society,” the campaign said.