ISSN 2330-717X

Robert Reich: How Joe Biden Can Help Workers Without Congress – OpEd


Did you know Joe Biden can help American workers right now, even without Congress? 


He can sign three executive orders, affecting a fifth of the economy and transforming millions of workers’ lives. 

Now Biden has made campaign promises to support workers.

So here are 3 ways he can fulfill that promise.

First: require that the federal government contract only with unionized companies whenever possible

This would give workers more bargaining power in every industry from healthcare to telecoms to food service to tech to defense.


Back in the last century when I was secretary of labor, the Chamber of Commerce sued me for trying to do something similar. You see, the Clinton administration had issued an executive order barring federal contracts with companies that permanently replaced striking workers. A federal court struck it down, ruling that the administration hadn’t shown that the executive order was necessary to save the government money. 

So the way to ensure this executive order holds up is to include evidence that unionized companies save the government money. And that’s not hard to do. Unions may deliver higher wages but they also have been shown to deliver higher productivity. And higher productivity saves the government money.

Secondly, discourage union busting. Biden can require that federal contracts go only to companies that pledge to remain neutral in efforts to unionize. 

Companies routinely use an arsenal of union-busting tactics. Some are blatantly illegal. A third of companies fire employees who try to form a union. They harass and intimidate their workers. About half threaten to close up shop or slash wages and benefits. 

Why should taxpayers subsidize companies that illegally quash unions? 

Third, deny federal contracts to companies that break labor laws. Biden can require bidders on federal contracts to disclose any labor violations in the past 3 years. This would just be reinstating Obama’s executive order, which Trump revoked

Companies that break the law and hurt workers shouldn’t be rewarded with lucrative federal contracts.

A policy like this helps workers everywhere. One study found that when the Labor Department announced penalties for violating safety standards, other companies in the industry improved their safety standards.

Taken together, these three executive orders will improve the lives of millions of Americans. Make it happen, Joe.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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