Warren proposes extensive plan to bolster labor protections

Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Senator Elizabeth Warren. John Locher/Associated Press

Saying the empowerment of American workers would be “the overarching goal” of her presidency, Senator Elizabeth Warren on Thursday proposed an exhaustive plan to bolster unions and labor protections as she tries to appeal to working-class voters.

“Unions built America’s middle class, and with the strong support of my administration, they will help rebuild America’s middle class,” Warren wrote in a post on the website Medium.

The multifaceted approach, which Warren would seek to accomplish through executive action and legislation, would expand existing labor law protections to include previously exempted groups, make it harder for companies to classify employees as independent contractors, repeal the federal law that allows states to enact “right to work” laws that limit union funding, and give new power to the National Labor Relations Board.


She also would seek to boost pay by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and making millions more workers eligible for overtime.

Unveiled ahead of a speech at a Service Employees International Union forum in Los Angeles on Friday, Warren’s 14-page plan includes several measures that would bolster collective bargaining power and the ability of workers to organize.

Shifting the balance of power to favor American workers been a central message of Warren’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, and is baked into many of her policy proposals, including student debt forgiveness and strict limits on corporate lobbying. Her new plan to expand labor protections strikes at the heart of that message while courting the working-class voters who supported President Trump in 2016.

“Decades of accumulating decisions in corporate boardrooms and in Washington have shifted more and more power into the hands of Wall Street managers, CEOs, and other elites — and money along with it,” Warren wrote. “We cannot have a truly democratic society with so little power in the hands of working people. We cannot have sustained and inclusive economic growth without a stronger labor movement.”


Significantly, Warren pledged that any nominee for the Supreme Court must be a “demonstrated advocate for workers,” seeking to counter recent court decisions that have, among other things, struck down the requirement that government employees who opt out of joining a union help pay for collective bargaining.

Warren’s plan also includes provisions that would ban the permanent replacement of workers who go on strike and make it easier for workers to organize boycotts. She would curb employer lockouts — such as the one that sidelined 1,250 National Grid gas workers last year — which have increased in frequency as strikes have dwindled.

As employment contracts that include non-compete and arbitration clauses become more common even for low-wage workers, Warren said she would seek legislation to ban such practices. That would mean employers could no longer prevent workers from joining a competing company or force them to enter arbitration to resolve a dispute.

Several new anti-discrimination measures are also included in Warren’s plan, including legislation to protect pregnant workers, people of color, and workers with disabilities. The plan also hikes what she called the “laughably small” penalties for those who run afoul of labor laws.

Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.