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Biden-Harris administration announces rules to encourage federal workers to join unions

Vice President Harris hosts a roundtable with workers.
By Pete Levine ·

During a roundtable talk Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh announced new guidelines to encourage federal workers to join unions. Harris spoke with a panel of federal workers alongside Walsh, making a powerful case not only for the importance of the jobs that federal workers do, but also why they must have a voice on the job.

“[Federal workers] do their work every day tirelessly on behalf of people who may never know their names but will forever be changed because of that work,” Harris said, noting the nurses who’ve served during the pandemic, firefighters who’ve braved this year’s wildfires and countless others whose sacrifices often go unseen.

“We are proud that the Biden-Harris administration will be the most pro-union administration in the history of America,” said Harris. “Our work includes … creating good union jobs through the Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure deal.”

Harris said the current administration has been working to help federal workers organize and bargain collectively for two reasons.

“We believe a stronger workforce will create higher productivity and lower turnover. We also believe this is about respecting the dignity of all work and respecting the dignity of all workers,” she said. “We’re doing this because we believe and know that workers are entitled to be paid commensurate with their value.”

To that end, two new rules will take hold for federal workers, thousands of whom are AFSCME members.

At the time of their hire, federal workers will be educated about their rights to join a union –something Harris noted does not always happen. Unions will also be able to participate in new hire sessions. Second, currently eligible federal workers will be reminded of their right to join a union.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders applauded the new guidelines, saying in a statement, “This is what it means to have a truly pro-worker administration – one that believes it is the responsibility of government to empower working people and encourage collective bargaining. Federal employees serve the country with pride every day, and they deserve a voice on the job.”

At its 43rd International Convention in Boston in 2018, AFSCME passed a resolution expressing solidarity with federal workers.

Today’s action from the White House is a stark counterpoint to the previous administration, which, during its four years, made many attempts to diminish the rights of federal employees. In 2018, a federal judge ruled that President Donald Trump exceeded his authority by attempting to weaken the collective bargaining rights of federal employees.

The Biden-Harris administration, on the other hand, has been consistent and vocal about the rights of workers to join a union.

Walsh, himself a former local union leader, said, “Unions are good for workers, they’re good for our communities, they’re good for our economy, and they’re certainly good for our country. Better pay and better benefits protect smaller wage earners and is an opportunity to get into the middle class.”

He’s talking about the union difference, which is being felt right now across the country, as a wave of worker actions this month shows that workers are demanding more of the value they create and demonstrating the power of belonging to a strong union.

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