O’Malley’s Labor Agenda Is A Love Note To Unions

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Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley unveiled an extensive workplace agenda Thursday aimed to reform labor relations with progressive ideals.

Unions and Democrats have been at the forefront fighting for a list of polices in O’Malley’s “worker bill of rights.” The list would secure 12 weeks of paid sick leave, make it easier for unions to organize workers and help women sue for pay discrimination. The reforms also aim to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“Governor O’Malley will fight to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, indexed to inflation,” the agenda, which was obtained by The Huffington Post, stated. “While supporting efforts to make local minimum wages ‘living wages’”

The $15 minimum wage has been a top priority for unions and many lawmaker on the Left. Advocates claim that it will help the poor by allowing them to more easily afford basic necessities, while the increased spending would stimulate economic activity. Skeptics are concerned that such an increase will actually hurt the poor by limiting job opportunities.

“O’Malley will champion legislation to make it easier for workers to gain union representation by modernizing the organizing process,” the agenda noted. “And creating tougher penalties for employers who violate the law and stand in the way of democracy in their workplace.”

The plan would continue an aggressive policy shift being pursued by President Barack Obama’s administration. One of the most contested regulatory changes impacts how union elections are held. The new procedure, dubbed the “ambush election” rule by critics, drastically shortens the length of time a union certification election must be held — from a median of 38 days to as little as 11 days.

Republican lawmakers and business groups have argued the rule change unfairly benefits unions at the expense of workers and their employers. It leaves workers little time to study the impact or even time to unionize. Attempts to challenge the rule have been unsuccessful for the most part. The Republican-controlled Congress tried to prevent it with a resolution that was vetoed by the president. Lawsuits filed against the administration by the business community also had trouble.

Attempts to redefine how employment is determined for many businesses has garnered a lot of opposition. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has worked to expand an employment principle known as the joint-employer standard, which could drastically alter contracting and the franchise model.

The National Labor Relations Act allows for businesses that contract with each other to be declared single employers. The standard has traditionally been determined by whether one has direct control over the employees of the other. Cases involving McDonald’s, CNN and Browning-Ferris Industries have allowed the NLRB to revisit and expand the joint-employer standard.

The expanded standard now considers factors beyond just employment. It makes it easier for the NLRB to declare two or more companies as joint-employers on a seemingly case-by-case basis. Businesses have asserted the new standard is not well-defined, which has caused uncertainty in their operations. Republican lawmakers and business leaders say that expanding the standard could undermine contracting and the franchise model.

The NLRB countered critics of its new union election process by stating the rule will help modernize a critical but outdated aspect of organizing. The NLRB also defended its expansion of the joint-employer standard by noting companies often times have too much control over the businesses they contract with for them to be consider their own operations.

The agenda, however, may never see the light of day. O’Malley has been treading water behind presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders throughout the primaries. There is hope for the individual initiatives within the plan though, as Sanders and Clinton have both made labor movement issues a central part of their campaigns.

Sanders introduced a bill in July that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. He is also a huge advocate for mandatory union dues. While Clinton supports a $12 an hour minimum wage.

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