Updated Oct 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

First look: Harris wants more union membership in fed workforce

Kamala Harris in a brown suit, sitting down.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a virtual town hall with Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) on Oct. 14. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will today announce new guidelines to encourage federal workers to join unions, according to a White House official.

Why it matters: The Biden administration wants to bolster the collective bargaining power of workers across the country – and they are starting at home, with changes in the federal workforce.

  • With more than 2.1 million non-postal employees, the federal government is the U.S.'s largest employer.
  • But only 20% of federal employees belong to a union.
  • The administration also wants to promote the federal workforce as a venue for women and workers of color to join the labor movement.

Driving the news: At the White House this morning, Harris and Walsh will announce two new executive actions.

  • For new hires, the government will be required to educate applicants about unions during the hiring and onboarding process. Unions will also be given a chance to participate in new employee training sessions.
  • For current workers, employers will need to communicate more clearly throughout the year about their collective bargaining rights and how to contact their unions.
  • Harris chairs the White House labor task force and Walsh is vice chair.

The big picture: With a wave of worker shortages across the country, some employees, like thousands of John Deere workers on strike, are testing their new power, Axios has reported.

By the numbers: Union membership ticked up slightly in 2020, increasing to 10.8% of the workforce from 10.3% in 2019.

  • For nearly 40 years, union participation has been declining, down from a peak of 20.1% in 1983.
  • Public-sector unions have seen their numbers swell while traditional unions, like the Teamsters, have seen their ranks decline, down 1.2 million members or 9%, according to Bloomberg Law.

Go deeper: Labor unions represent a larger percentage of U.S. workers than at any time in the past five years, as the pandemic took its biggest bite out of non-unionized jobs.

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