21st Century Workers ‘Bill of Rights’

Bill de Blasio
Jul 23, 2019 · 11 min read

Over the past 50 years economic gains have been increasingly concentrated at the very top. We have witnessed the birth of a new breed of ultra-wealthy CEOs and Wall Street investors, but about half of all Americans have seen their income remain flat or even decline. Since the 1980s, almost all income gains have been captured by the rich.

The rules of the economy are so slanted in favor of the wealthy that even during a supposed economic boom, middle class and working-class families are not sharing in the prosperity.

We need to re-write the rules of our economy so that our economy works for workers, and not just because of them.

Bill de Blasio is proposing a fundamentally new vision for the economy that ensures workers receive the rewards of their labor and that gives workers power to ensure that they are treated fairly, their rights are respected, and that they can impact and make decisions about their own working conditions.

Just Cause for Termination: The Real Right to Work

A real “right to work” should mean the right to keep your job as long as you do your job.

The vast majority of employees in America are “at will” employees. They can be fired at any time and for almost any reason. In most states workers can still be fired just for being openly gay or lesbian. Workers can be fired if their boss is simply in a bad mood that day. Workers can be fired for their political views or just for the way they dress. And workers can be fired illegally based on racial discrimination or sexual harassment — or for union organizing — and must then pursue costly, stressful, time consuming litigation without any guarantee of prevailing in court.

Bill de Blasio’s “Just Cause” policy would replace “at will” employment with a just cause system that protects workers from unfair terminations. It would require that employers can only fire workers for failure to properly do their job and only after appropriate warning or due process.

Balancing Work, Life and Family: The Right to Paid Time Off

Americans are among the hardest working people on the planet. Far too many must work two or even three jobs just to provide for their families and far too many lack basic protections to ensure they can balance the ever-increasing demands of work with their commitment to their children and families.

As President, Bill de Blasio would propose sweeping new protections to help Americans balance family and work:

  • Paid vacation. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate any paid time off, including paid holidays. Nationally, one in four workers — nearly 40 million people — get no paid time off at all, even for bereavement leave. Bill de Blasio would finally bring America in line with all other advanced democracies by guaranteeing workers a right to at least two weeks paid personal time year.
  • Paid sick days for all: No one should have to risk losing pay or losing their job just to go to the doctor or care for a sick child. When workers are forced to come to work sick, illness spreads and productivity decreases. To guarantee both the health of families and our economy, we must ensure all workers have access to paid sick days.
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave: de Blasio would amend the Family and Medical Leave Act to guarantee that workers are paid when they take leave for the birth of a child or to care for themselves or a family member.

Universal Labor Standards: The Right Protection for All Workers

As the “gig economy” grows, workers are increasingly taking on non-traditional jobs in the “digital marketplace”, such as ride sharing or cleaning services. These services offer a convenient tool for consumers and should mean flexibility for workers. But without basic protections and benefits that more traditional employment arrangements typically provide, too many of these jobs are a bad deal for workers.

Bill de Blasio’s proposal would ensure, for those working in gig jobs, that: 1) when workers are truly employees, they’re properly treated that way under law, and 2) even when gig workers are freelancing, they are still entitled to the same basic minimum standards as traditional employees. This will ensure that workers can grow along with the gig economy and not just fuel its profits while they themselves are left behind.

Under de Blasio’s plan gig workers who truly are freelancers or independent contractors (and not “employees” under key labor laws) would still be entitled to a minimum pay rate no lower than the minimum wage employees get, to make sure they can get paid when businesses stiff them, and other basic protections, including workers compensation and unemployment insurance. Those workers would also be allowed to organize and negotiate collectively when they work for the same or related businesses. Falsely claiming that workers are independent contractors in order to skirt worker protections will be a thing of the past. This practice would be illegal and punished severely. It would also become economically irrelevant since all workers must have the same basic minimum standards and protections.

Bill de Blasio’s proposal of Universal Labor Standards and Protections for All would restore the promise of social security — the original portable benefit — by ensuring all workers have access to key benefits that are pro-rated and universal, and stay with workers when they move among different employers. First and foremost, this proposal would ensure all workers have access to adequate retirement and health care coverage, requiring digital employment platforms to contribute to portable workers’ benefit funds. Additionally, de Blasio’s plan would amend the tax code so that those who are self-employed can take advantage of benefits employers can offer employees, such as transit benefits, and flexible spending for health care and childcare.

Family First Scheduling: The Right to Stability

Working families need stability in their lives. Too many workers don’t know when and how much they will work from week to week — or even day to day — and face constant changes in their schedules at the whim of their manager, creating stress and instability for families.

That will change under Bill de Blasio’s Family First Scheduling policy.

  • Workers will have the right to know their schedules at least two weeks in advance.
  • Workers will be entitled to make their own decisions about working additional hours outside of their schedule — and will receive premium pay when they do.
  • Workers will be entitled to compensation when scheduled work is cancelled.
  • Part-time workers will be able to request and be awarded open shifts before their employer hires someone new.

Living Wages for All: The Right to Fair Pay

Raise the minimum wage to $15 and index to median worker pay

It’s been 10 years since the minimum wage has been increased — the longest period without an increase since the minimum wage was created over 80 years ago. In addition, it’s time to phase out the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and create one fair wage for all.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour will benefit 40 million workers and generate $120 billion in income for working families.

Raise the Overtime Salary Threshold

Bill de Blasio will ensure salaried workers who still don’t earn a real livable wage are paid time and a half when they work overtime. Anyone making less than $50,000 a year should automatically receive time and a half pay for more than 40 hours of work per week.

Equal Pay

To eliminate pay disparities rooted in gender bias, de Blasio will call on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This legislation would require employers to report annual compensation data and prohibit asking prospective employees about salary history to ensure that pay equity is a mandated right in all workplaces across America.

Making the Department of Labor Work for Workers

Wage theft costs workers $15 billion per year according to recent estimates — money that employers are literally taking from workers. Yet under the Trump administration, the Department of Labor has dramatically scaled back enforcement of wage and hour complaints such as violations of the minimum wage, overtime, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Workers need to know that the Department of Labor is on their side and will aggressively enforce violations of their rights. As President Bill de Blasio will dramatically strengthen the Department of Labor’s ability to protect workers.

  • Add 1,000 wage and hour investigators, doubling the number from the peak of the Obama administration, and proactively investigate employers in low-wage industries where violations are most common, rather than relying on workers who often fear retaliation to complain, or worse still depending on “self-enforcement” by employers.
  • Increase penalties for violations, including increasing use of criminal prosecution for wage theft. When employers systematically steal money from workers it should be treated as a crime just as other forms of theft are.

Restoring Workers’ Collective Power: The Right to a Voice on the Job

For 40 years, corporate America has done all it can to make it nearly impossible for workers in this country to organize and assert their collective voice, by directly attacking workers and unions in the private sector and undermining key protections for public sector workers through politics and the Courts.

For the last several years, workers all over the country, from teachers and journalists, to airport and fast food workers have been saying “enough is enough” and taking risks to rebalance the scales. Workers demand change from their employers to benefit their families and their communities, calling for increased funding for education, racial justice, and other common goods.

It’s time for the law to catch up to what these workers are demanding: a voice. For the last several decades, key initiatives to fix the law have stalled. Bill de Blasio’s plan to Restore Workers’ Collective Power takes some of the strongest ideas from those efforts, including the Workplace Democracy Act, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, and then goes the extra mile to truly restore worker voice. The plan has several key prongs.

Make it easier to join a union

Union members earn more money, have better benefits, and more job security than non-union members doing the same work. Nearly half of all non-union members say they would like to be in a union if they could. Strong unions are absolutely essential to a strong middle class — yet employers use every tool at their disposal — including routinely breaking the law — to prevent their workers from unionizing.

Workers need the freedom to join unions without interference and intimidation from their employer. That’s why de Blasio supports sweeping changes to make it easier for workers to organize for better pay and benefits:

  • Institute “card check”: Workers will be able to join a union at any time by signing up confidentially. When a majority of the workers at a particular workplace have joined a union, the National Labor Relations Board must certify the union and order the company to begin collective bargaining.
  • Eliminate all forms of employer interference and intimidation on the subject of union representation: No worker should ever be pressured by anyone during work time. That means an end to captive audience meetings, and barring managers from discussing unionization with workers then they are on the clock. Any communications with employees on the subject of unionization must include explicit disclaimer language advising workers of their right to organize, and those rights must be prominently posted in the workplace.
  • Protect workers’ right to organize: If employers intimidate, discipline, or fire workers for seeking to organize, the NLRB must seek an injunction, reinstatement must be immediate, and additional redress and penalties must be swift, severe, and certain. Both companies and individual violators must be held accountable to standards that are true deterrents, instead of just the slap on the wrist that current law dictates.
  • The right to organize must be expanded to all workers, including those who have been historically marginalized and excluded from collective bargaining such as agricultural workers, domestic workers, and independent contractors.

Ensure the Right to Organize and Bargain for Public Sector Workers; Require the Same of Federal Contractors

Bill de Blasio would ensure key protections for public sector workers by:

  • Ensuring the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act is passed: 1) so that all states must respect the freedom of public sector workers to join unions and collectively bargain, providing 17.3 million public employees a national standard of bargaining rights, including teachers, police officers, and sanitation workers; and 2) to overturn the anti-Union Supreme Court Janus decision.
  • Using the power of the purse to ensure jobs that should be in the public sector stay there, and aren’t privatized, and that fair labor standards are required for all contractors that do business with the federal government.

Restore worker and union power

Workers need to have the freedom to join unions — and unions need to have the ability to represent workers effectively. Current laws not only make it hard for workers to join unions, they also restrict the ability of unions to effectively fight for their members. If we want a strong middle class we must enable strong unions.

  • Ban permanent replacement of striking workers.
  • Guarantee free speech for workers and unions, including removing prohibition on secondary boycotts.
  • Fix the current regime that allows big corporations to avoid responsibility and accountability to the workers whose labor standards they can actually control; adopt a definition of “employer” that means any company that can truly affect working conditions.
  • At the union’s request, require mediation and arbitration to secure a first contract if employers refuse to bargain in good faith.
  • Require worker retention policies when firms subcontract work to a non-union firm to avoid unionization or to reduce wages and benefits.

Abolish anti-worker laws and practices

Corporate CEOs and their allies in the Republican Party have successfully pushed for laws and embraced systems designed to deny workers a voice and restrict their rights to win better pay and benefits for their families. It’s time to end policies that deprive workers of their rights and their voice.

  • Abolish right to work laws that deny workers their rights to join a union and collectively bargain.
  • Ban mandatory arbitration policies that force workers to sign away their rights as a condition of employment.
  • Ban “non-compete” clauses currently apply to an estimated 30 million workers, restricting worker mobility and suppressing wages by preventing employees from accepting a better job at a different company.

Making bold ideas a reality: The NYC Experience

Mayor de Blasio has proven that big ideas for addressing inequality and standing up for working people can actually become a reality.

As Mayor of New York City, he has overseen the successful adoption, expansion and implementation of critical new protections for all workers similar to many of the proposals in his 21st Century Workers Bill of Rights, including:

  • A $15 an hour minimum wage: NYC was among the first cities to take action on the $15 minimum wage when Mayor de Blasio mandated that all city employees and all employees of city contractors would receive at least $15 per hour. He later supported efforts in Albany that resulted in the $15 minimum wage law for all New York City employees.
  • Paid leave: As Public Advocate and candidate for Mayor, de Blasio championed calls for a paid sick days law. Following his election one of the first bills he signed was expanding this right to an additional 500,000 employees. NYC is also poised to pass legislation giving all workers 2 weeks of paid vacation.
  • Fair scheduling for fast food and retail workers: NYC passed one of the first — and still one of the strongest — laws giving workers predictability in their schedules, making it easier for workers to make arrangements for child care and other family obligations.
  • Protections for freelance and gig workers: A minimum pay standard of $17.22 per hour in net earnings for platform drivers, and true enforcement for freelancers of their right to be paid for their work.

These critical new standards have been enforced by NYC’s Office of Labor Policy and Standards, the largest municipal labor standards office in the country, which has modeled enforcement practices with its proactive investigations, strong anti-retaliation practices, and focus on protecting the most vulnerable workers, including immigrants.

And, while the right to organize is generally a federal matter, De Blasio has been clear from day one as Mayor about his commitment to workers’ collective bargaining rights, keeping close to 100% of NYC’s workforce under up-to-date, strong contracts, and ensuring a productive and constructive relationship between the city and its workers and unions.

Bill de Blasio

Written by

Mayor. Fighting for a better and fairer New York City, no matter how much money you make or where you live.

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