In responding to the question, “What should be the highest priorities of the next President in the areas of law that you teach,” the answers in labor and employment law are many and clear.
The next President should first focus on the following three areas in the labor and employment law context: labor rights, workplace anti-discrimination and civil rights, and employee benefit rights.
Labor Rights: The percentage of American workers covered by union contracts is now below 8%, as opposed to 16% as recently as 1985. Without unions to fight for them, workers fall behind in wages, benefits, and standard of living. Additionally, companies like Wal-Mart are calling meetings to tell employees not to vote for the Democrats in this year’s election. Unionized workers earn more and are more likely to have pensions and health insurance than non-unionized workers. Workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation. The next President should therefore sign the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize and secure initial agreements with their employers. The next President should also act to restore collective bargaining rights to nurses and other workers excluded as “supervisors,” and to ban employers’ practices of permanently replacing striking workers. The next President should sign into law the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act to assure public safety workers who put their lives on the line every day their right to bargain collectively. Finally, the next President should work to appoint members of the National Labor Relations Board who will work to protect employee choice by outlawing employer captive audience meetings during election campaigns.
Workplace Anti-Discrimination and Civil Rights: The next President should work for legislation requiring employers to provide at least seven days of paid sick leave to their employees and expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cover more workers. The next President should also protect the wages of working women by helping to legislatively overrule the Ledbetter decision, which will promote paycheck equity and help close the pay gap that leaves working women earning only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. The next President should also sign legislation to extend § 1983 civil rights claims to actions against federal officials so that federal employees can vindicate their consitutional rights to speech and privacy. Finally, the next President should expand Title VII and fully include all LGBT individuals under its protections.
Employee Benefits Rights: With more than 47 million Americans-–including 9 million children–without health insurance, the next President needs to sign a universal health care plan into law before the end of his first term. This plan structure should include guaranteed eligibility, comprehensive benefits, and affordable premiums and co-payments, with subsidisies for families that cannot afford the premiums. ERISA should be amended to provide for less preemption of state health care finance laws so that states can experiment in providing all of their citizens adequate health care. The next President should also work to amend ERISA to provide monetary, make-whole remedies to employees who suffer from mismanagement of their employee benefits.
Believe it or not, the above suggestions would merely start the process of affording American employees the same basic workplace rights as their international counterparts. The United States should not only be a beacon of democracy and freedom, but should be the envy of the world in how we treat our employees.