Joe Biden Unveils Labor Plan in Appeal to Middle Class Voters

(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden is proposing a wide array of ideas aimed at helping workers unionize and protecting their rights as he seeks to show voters that he will fight for them in ways that he says President Donald Trump has not.

The Democratic presidential candidate on Friday released a series of pledges aimed at countering what his campaign calls “the abuse of corporate power over labor,” while also encouraging workers to organize. Some of the measures build on existing legislation or efforts by the Obama administration.

Biden is presenting his labor plan days after he returned to his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, for a speech touting his middle-class roots and values, and assailing all the ways he sees Trump failing to deliver for working Americans.

Joe Biden Unveils Labor Plan in Appeal to Middle Class Voters

But it also arrives just a day after his campaign said it would not stand in the way of allies who are working to launch a super political action committee in support of his candidacy, potentially giving wealthy donors more of a say in the Democratic presidential contest that’s largely turned against major corporations and the rich.

Rivals to his left, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have presented themselves as champions of the working class, and Warren has moved ahead of Biden in some polls.

Biden, who was Barack Obama’s vice president and a longtime senator from Delaware, wants to establish that his allegiances still lie with the American middle class. “Hard-working, middle-class people built America,” he said on Tuesday in Scranton. “Unions built the middle class. And the middle class built this country.”

His plan -- which calls for abolishing state right-to-work laws, no- poaching pacts among companies and almost all non-compete agreements -- does not break much new ground in the Democratic race, and aligns him on many points with his more progressive rivals.

Biden has also joined his chief opponents in embracing a standard inspired by the law enacted last month in California that made it much more difficult for companies like Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. to claim their workers are independent contractors rather than employees.

The plan would also introduce new measures to hold company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts -- with the risk of criminal charges for intentional interference.

He said that he supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, introduced by Representative Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, and others earlier this year. That measure would impose financial penalties on companies that interfere with unionization efforts.

Biden said he would “aggressively” pursue employers who violate labor laws, participate in wage theft or intentionally misclassify employees as independent contractors. He added that he intends to push for legislation to make misclassification of workers a “substantive violation” of federal labor, employment and tax laws. He would also fund an increase in the number of investigators in various agencies, whose ranks have been cut by the Trump administration.

Biden also plans to work to make it easier for workers to organize and collectively bargain whether they are employed in the public or private sector. He promises to create a cabinet-level working group with representatives from organized labor that would be responsible for coming up with a plan by the end of his first 100 days in office to foster union membership and address economic inequality.

To ease organization, he would push for legislation like versions of the Employee Free Choice Act that have been proposed over the past dozen years that would give workers the choice to unionize via “card check.”

He also backs related measures in Scott’s bill and would push to codify the Obama administration’s National Labor Relations Board rules for shorter timelines in union election campaigns, as well as the Obama-era “persuader rule” requiring employers to report information communicated to employees and activities of third-party consultants who run employers’ anti-union campaigns.

Biden would also push to establish federal labor rights for all public sector employees.

He has decades of relationships with many major unions, including the International Association of Fire Fighters, which endorsed him just as he began his campaign in April. Union endorsements can bolster a candidate by encouraging members’ support, but also because labor organizations can deploy field organizers and volunteers.

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