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June 2021

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Biden Creates First-Ever Task Force to
Strengthen Unions, Empower Workers

A new White House task force is charged with making sure the federal government acts to promote unions and collective bargaining, the first mission of its kind to fulfill the nearly century-old promise of the National Labor Relations Act.

President Joe Biden launched the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment on April 26, naming Vice President Kamala Harris as chair and assigning the majority of his Cabinet and additional economic, domestic and climate policy advisors to serve as members.

He is giving the panel 180 days to recommend ways to "mobilize the federal government's policies, programs, and practices to empower workers to organize and successfully bargain with their employers."

The historic directive drew swift praise from labor leaders.

"This unprecedented task force — involving almost all of the highest-ranking people in the executive branch — is President Biden's most comprehensive approach yet to lift up workers and unions," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said.

"He knows that stronger unions are the path back to America's middle class and a thriving, just economy," he said. "The magnitude of his efforts can't be overstated. We've literally never seen anything like it."

Biden, who pledged to be the "most pro-union president you've ever seen," added to a long list of pro-worker initiatives the same week with an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a minimum $15 wage.

The increase will benefit hundreds of thousands of workers who clean and maintain federal offices, care for the nation's veterans as nursing aides, work in staff cafeterias and feed the military, and build and repair federal infrastructure.

Forcing the hand of government contractors might not be necessary now if the government had lived up to words enshrined in Article 1 of the NLRA, which Congress passed in 1935. On paper, at least, it became federal policy to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining, "not to merely allow or tolerate them," as the White House said in announcing the task force.

While some administrations took action over the past 86 years to support the NLRA's goals, none tried anything on the scale of Biden's objectives.

His executive order explicitly links federal inaction to decades of declining union density, even while polls indicate that 60 million Americans would join a union if given the opportunity.

"This decline has had a host of negative consequences for workers and the economy, including weakening and shrinking America's middle class," the order states. "Meanwhile, some workers have been excluded from opportunities to organize unions and bargain collectively with their employers by law or practice, and so have never been able to build meaningful economic power or have a voice in their workplaces."

To turn that around, the White House is asking the task force to propose ways that the federal government can:

  • Lead by example as a model employer with respect to encouraging organizing and collective bargaining among its workforce.
  • Facilitate public- and private-sector organizing across the country through the government's policies, programs, and practices.
  • Increase worker power in underserved communities by addressing the particular challenges in jurisdictions with restrictive labor laws; the added challenges faced by many women, people of color and other marginalized workers; and barriers to organizing workers in certain industries.
  • Increase union membership across the United States to "grow a more inclusive middle class and provide workers the opportunity to come together for the purpose of mutual advancement, the dignity of worker and workers, respect, and the fair compensation they deserve."

The 24-member task force includes Labor Secretary Marty Walsh as vice chair, along with the secretaries of Treasury, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; heads of the EPA, General Services and the Small Business Administration; the U.S. trade representative; and other key advisors.

Members are urged to seek input from the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Labor Relations Authority and similar boards and commissions, as well as labor unions, other worker advocates and researchers.

While their role is advisory-only, the White House says the recommendations they make six months from now will be critical to Biden's decisions about changes to federal policies, practices and programs.

As chair, Harris posted on social media that she's eager to help workers build power. "Every worker deserves the choice to join a union — and our country is better when more workers are union members," she said.


Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, President Joe Biden signs an order creating the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment. Its members have 180 days to recommend ways the government can foster the growth of unions, a long-ignored policy established by federal labor law decades ago.

New Bill Would Restore Tax Deduction for
Union Dues, Other Worker Expenses

Four years after the income tax deduction for union dues was ripped out of the U.S. tax code, pro-worker lawmakers are fighting to bring it back and, for the first time, make it available without itemizing.

The Tax Fairness for Workers Act would also restore the deduction for other unreimbursed employee expenses, including travel and the cost of tools and uniforms, that were killed in the 2017 package of tax breaks for the rich.

The bill was announced April 15 by Democratic Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chuck Schumer of New York, Patty Murray of Washington, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

"In 2017, Republicans eliminated tax deductions for workers and instead gave massive tax cuts for large, profitable corporations," Casey said. "This legislation would put money back in the pockets of working families."

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Make the deduction for union dues "above the line," meaning union taxpayers can claim it without itemizing.
  • Lift the suspension of the deduction for unreimbursed employee expenses, including money spent out of pocket on tools, uniforms and other necessary supplies, travel costs and job search expenses.

"As our economy recovers from the pandemic, it is critical we ensure all Americans can provide for their families," Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb said. "This commonsense bill ensures that our tax code treats workers and union members fairly."

Lamb is introducing a companion bill in the House and, together with Casey, has been at the forefront of the battle to restore and expand worker-friendly provisions of the tax code.

Making the case for the proposals in an article last fall, the Center for American Progress said the pro-union reforms "would be an important step forward in increasing the number of workers with access to unions and collective bargaining and should be part of any effort to create a more progressive tax framework."

Until then, the authors said the tax code is one more roadblock to justice for working people.

"Legal barriers against workers extend well beyond labor policy," they wrote. "For a country that prides itself on the tenacity of its workforce, the U.S. legal code is steeped in rules that hinder workers' ability to prosper.

"One need look no further than the Internal Revenue Code, which contains several provisions that further tilt power away from unions and toward corporations. Tax law allows businesses to deduct the costs of fighting unions, prevents workers from deducting the costs of joining a union, and facilitates companies that misclassify employees as independent contractors, which denies workers their right to unionize."

The Center went into greater detail about the dues deduction in an earlier article, arguing that it needs to return without delay.

"Unions and the workers they represent should not have to wait for this eminently fair tax treatment," senior tax policy director Alexandra Thornton wrote. "If an above-the-line deduction for union dues were enacted now on a permanent basis, workers and unions would not be caught up in the decision that Congress will face in 2026 — whether or not to allow the law to automatically revert (to pre-2017 tax law) for a range of individual income tax provisions."

The absence of union dues and job expense deductions came as an ugly surprise to many IBEW members and workers across the board when they filed their 2018 tax returns two years ago, the first tax season affected by the 2017 law.

"That was real money, for some people hundreds of dollars or more stolen from their household budgets to line the pockets of billionaires and corporations that didn't need it, didn't share it and didn't invest it," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "The Tax Fairness for Workers Act would go a long way toward righting those wrongs."


Democratic lawmakers are backing bills to let workers once again deduct union dues and other unreimbursed job expenses, benefits that GOP tax cuts for the rich abolished in 2017.

Biden Intends to Name Retired IVP Klein to
TVA Board, a First for Unions

In May, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate retired Tenth District International Vice President Robert P. "Bobby" Klein to serve a five-year term as a member of the board of directors for the Tennessee Valley Authority. More than 2,500 IBEW members work for the government-owned utility, providing electricity to nearly 10 million customers across Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.

"Union labor built the TVA," Klein said. "I'm very humbled and grateful for this opportunity. Certainly, I'm indebted to the IBEW for submitting my name for consideration."

There are four open positions on the Authority's board, and both International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who served as an adviser on Biden's transition team, and current Tenth District International Vice President Brent E. Hall are delighted with Klein's intended nomination by the Biden administration. "Bobby cares about people, the TVA and its mission, and I think it's a great opportunity for him, for organized labor, and for TVA's ratepayers," Hall said.

A lifelong resident of Chattanooga, Tenn., Klein was initiated into Chattanooga Local 846 in 1974, and he topped out as a lineman in 1981. Working with the city's Electric Power Board, Klein went on to become a line foreman, supervising the construction and maintenance of the power distribution system. Three years later, he was chosen to serve as the overhead line department's chief steward.

Klein was elected president of Local 846 in 1988 and was re-elected in 1991. When Local 846 merged with Chattanooga Local 175, Klein left his EPB job and joined the local staff full-time.

In 1998, then-International President J. J. Barry appointed Klein as an international representative with the Tenth District, which covers Tennessee, Arkansas and the Carolinas. There, Klein took on the role as the service representative for the 17 IBEW locals with members employed by the TVA.

The Authority was established in 1933 under President Franklin Roosevelt, one of his many "New Deal" programs that helped put to work people who lost jobs during the Great Depression. It remains the nation's largest government-owned power provider, a fully self-sustaining utility supported by the revenues it collects from the millions of ratepayers it serves.

"Any time you talk to Bobby about the TVA, first and foremost he'll tell you TVA's mission statement: To bring prosperity to the Valley," Hall said. "He's a perfect candidate for the board. He does not make knee-jerk decisions. He thinks things through."

Today, the TVA employs about 2,500 IBEW members as permanent employees at nearly 60 nuclear, oil and gas, hydroelectric and solar worksites, with thousands more members performing short-term work for the utility each year upgrading infrastructure and performing regular maintenance.

While Klein worked in the district office, he also served on the Tennessee Valley Authority's Labor-Management Committee, and in 2001 he was elected president of the Tennessee Valley Trades and Labor Council, a position he held for 14 years.

In 2003, then-International President Edwin D. Hill appointed Klein to serve as the district's international vice president; he was re-elected by delegates to the 37th and 38th International Conventions. In 2014, Klein led a successful fight against a draft federal budget plan to privatize the Authority. He retired from the IBEW the following year.

The TVA board position requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. A hearing date to consider Klein's nomination had not yet been set by the time this issue went to press.

"I feel like having someone from labor will bring a different perspective to the board," Klein said.

"For so many years, Bobby served with distinction as this union's caretaker of our partnership with the TVA," said Stephenson, who noted that, in 2018, the IBEW and the TVA forged a partnership to promote the values of the Code of Excellence and to inspire new levels of cooperation between labor and management.

"As far as anyone can tell, if he's confirmed, he'll be the first union member to hold a seat on the TVA's board," Stephenson said.

"This nomination is not about me," Klein said. "It's about bettering the future of the TVA, IBEW and all working-class people in the Tennessee Valley region.


Retired 10th District International Vice President Bobby Klein, one of President Biden's picks to serve on the TVA board, has years of experience working with the utility.