The Electrical Worker online
January 2021

A Punchlist for the President
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President-elect Joe Biden kicked off his campaign in April 2019 at a Pittsburgh Teamsters hall where he declared, "I'm a union man. Period." On the eve of the election, he ended his campaign promising to be "the most pro-union president you've ever seen."

In between, he placed union members and union families at the very heart of his campaign, preaching the gospel of collective bargaining as the surest path to leveling the playing field and restoring America's middle class.

As he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris prepare to take the oath of office on Jan. 20, there are even more encouraging signs for America's labor movement. Union members and other worker advocates have prominent roles on a wide range of advisory panels, including International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

Since the election, two dozen policy experts and union leaders have been looking in-depth at the Department of Labor and related agencies to begin to repair the harm done by anti-union appointees over the past four years.

Those pursuits and others, alongside Biden's 50-year track record fighting for workers in the U.S. Senate and as vice president, give IBEW leaders confidence that the next administration will be one where working families are the focus.

But just as there is on any jobsite, there's a list of tasks to be accomplished — and quickly. These are the IBEW's top priorities for the Biden-Harris administration: our "Punchlist for the President."

 Passing the PRO Act

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act lives up to its name, and more, promising to put an end to the tactics that prevent most Americans from having a voice at work. Provisions include streamlining National Labor Relations Board elections to thwart employer interference and delays; penalties — even personal liability for boards and directors — when companies fire or otherwise punish union supporters; accountability if employers fail to bargain in good faith for a first contract; protecting strikes and secondary boycotts; and reducing worker misclassification. The U.S. House passed the PRO Act last year; getting it through the House and Senate would be a landmark achievement for the new administration.

  Investing in Infrastructure

Our nation's decaying roads, bridges and tunnels need urgent attention. Repairs, replacements and new construction, including rail systems, would create hundreds of thousands of jobs for the IBEW and other building trades while reducing carbon emissions and protecting lives. There is widespread belief in Washington that even with a divided Congress, bipartisan support could be had for a spending package that includes a massive investment in America's infrastructure. Getting it passed and getting long overdue shovel-ready projects out of the planning stages and into action would be a monumental win for America's construction workforce and for the Biden-Harris administration.

  Modernizing the Grid

Any infrastructure plan must include a major investment in the electrical grid, and it's so important that it's included here separately. Any 21st-century energy plan must protect the grid by maintaining baseload power sources and the workers who run them, but it must also ease the incorporation of the low-carbon, renewable generators of the future with a massive build-out of long-range transmission and high-tech smart grid systems in transmission and distribution. IBEW members and signatory contractors are best equipped to tackle these projects, and having an ally like Joe Biden in the White House will be key to making sure the jobs are done right.

  Fixing Multiemployer Pensions

Protecting workers' hard-earned pensions demands swift action on the Butch Lewis Act, which would create a Treasury Department agency to help keep troubled plans from insolvency through long-term, low-interest federal loans. The Biden-Harris administration cannot allow a few troubled multiemployer pension plans to bring down healthy plans like our own. Your IBEW leaders have waged an intense battle to protect multiemployer plans from legislative assault under the guise of pension "reform" schemes to prop up failing plans by weakening healthy ones like ours. President-elect Biden should make signing the Butch Lewis Act one of his top priorities.

  Making Pro-Union Appointments

Presidential appointees control the NLRB, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Labor Department and other agencies that hold workers' lives and livelihoods in their hands. Chartered long ago to protect workers' rights and safety on the job, the agencies have been doing the exact opposite in recent years under leadership hostile to unions. Employers break labor laws with impunity, and many workers' complaints are dismissed without investigation. In an epic, widely condemned, failure, OSHA never issued a COVID-19 standard for employers. But anti-worker court rulings and laws have chipped away at the agencies' authority for decades. Undoing the latest damage won't be enough for Biden-Harris nominees. They must restore their agencies to their original pro-worker mandates.

 Enforcing and Expanding Labor Standards

The Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act, introduced by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley in 2019, offers tax incentives to employers to create jobs with "high-road labor standards," including strong wages, benefits and apprenticeship opportunities. The bill supports PLAs, prevailing wage laws, standards to prevent worker misclassification and an "explicit neutrality policy on all collective bargaining issues." Passing and signing it should be high on the Biden-Harris agenda.