- President Joe Biden is creating a task force to strengthen unions and their membership.
- The task force will look into existing and new policies to strengthen worker power.
- The rate of unionization has fallen in the past 40 years, and Amazon workers recently led a failed union drive.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
President Joe Biden is creating a task force to help promote and strengthen union membership through an executive order today.
According to the White House, the task force – which will be chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris, with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh serving as vice chair – will focus on helping to bolster union membership and worker organizing and bargaining.
The task force will examine both existing policies and the need for new ones, and report back recommendations within 180 days. The group will also include Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
“Since 1935, when the National Labor Relations Act was enacted, the policy of the federal government has been to encourage worker organizing and collective bargaining, not to merely allow or tolerate them,” the White House release said. “In the 86 years since the Act was passed, the federal government has never fully implemented this policy.”
The main focuses of the task force include setting up the federal government as a “model employer,” helping to bolster worker organizing – especially by increasing power for marginalized workers, and those in industries where organizing is difficult – as well as generally upping the number of workers in unions.
Union membership has fallen
A report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank, found that the number of workers who are represented by a union declined by 444,000 from 2019 to 2020.
However, the rate of unionization – the share of workers represented by one – actually increased in 2020, to 12.1% from 11.6%. The report attributes that to the power that unions give their workers, potentially resulting in those unionized workers having more of a say in how their workplaces functioned during the pandemic and its economic impact. And industries that are less unionized – the report cites leisure and hospitality – also saw the most job losses.
On the whole, according to EPI, the unionization rate is highest for Black workers, coming in at 13.9%. Throughout the pandemic, both that rate and the number of Black workers represented by a union increased.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also found that “Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 84 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($958 versus $1,144).”
However, in a historical context, unionization rates are still very low. EPI said 2020’s rate is still below half of what it was 40 years ago. Amazon workers had a recent high-profile union loss, as workers in a Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted against forming a union. That unit would’ve been the first union for the company.
“Amazon didn’t win – our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union,” the company said in a statement after the vote, over which the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) has filed official objections.
But with Biden’s task force, union membership could see a boost. The president has also backed a labor-rights bill called the PRO Act.
“As America works to recover from the devastating challenges of deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and reckoning on race that reveals deep disparities, we need to summon a new wave of worker power to create an economy that works for everyone,” Biden said in a March statement on the bill.