Workers First: A Fair Deal for a More Just Economy

Julián Castro
Oct 2, 2019 · 5 min read

My family’s story starts with my grandmother, Victoria. She worked her entire life as a maid, a cook, and a babysitter. She cleaned the houses of wealthy families to afford the rent and raised my mom as a single parent. My brother and I grew up on the West Side of San Antonio, attended public schools, and watched my mom work as an organizer in a community still grappling with the legacy of segregation. She taught us to fight for justice and equality for everyone. I believe that all work has dignity and all workers should be valued with good pay, solid benefits, and the security of a strong union.

Joaquin and I with our grandmother.

Over the last four decades, working people have contributed more and more to our economic prosperity, but paychecks have not kept pace with the rising cost of living. The share of national wealth going to corporations is growing, while the share of income for labor is historically low. We’ve had a tug of war between workers and investors, and people who labor for a living are losing out.

Corporate profits are up, the stock market is soaring, yet median income is the same as in 1999. Average hourly wages peaked 45 years ago. This is not by accident: the number of union members reached its high in 1979. The power of workers to organize and ability of unions to push back against giant corporations is at its weakest point since World War II.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s cheap talk and promises to American workers is a complete fraud. This has been the most anti-worker, anti-union administration in recent history. From rolling back worker protections and relaxing child labor rules to reducing the number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors and urging the Supreme Court to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals, labor rights are under assault everywhere. I have a completely different vision for the future that puts workers first and working families in a position to thrive in a 21st Century economy.

Workers need a new champion in the White House — a president who will fight for the rights of working people to organize, join a union, and build a more just economy. And the American people are ready for change.

Last year, a record number of American workers — nearly half a million workers — went on strike. Teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma, nurses in California and Florida, fast food workers in North Carolina and Iowa, all took to the streets to protest for better pay and fair benefits. This spring, the Stop & Shop strike was the largest private sector work stoppage in years. And for the first time in a dozen years, GM auto workers have set up picket lines to protest for a fair share of profits. There is a growing movement to ensure our economy works for working people. Now is the moment to shift the balance of power into the hands of workers.

That’s why I’m proposing a Workers First labor policy — a new plan for a fair deal for America’s workers and a more just economy for everyone. This is a new suite of policies to put workers first: unions for all, justice for farmworkers, dignity for domestic workers, and a 21st Century Safety Net for working families.

A central focus of my administration will be empowering workers through collective action for higher wages, better benefits, and a stronger economy. My Workers First plan aims to more than double union membership and reach a new high of union participation. We will eliminate barriers to join a union and direct the Department of Labor to support sectoral bargaining to raise labor standards industry-wide for everyone. In a Castro administration, workers will have a seat on corporate boards for a stronger voice in the workplace. We will strengthen the National Labor Relations Board to prevent employers from abusing workers and hold corporations accountable for retaliating against workers who exercise their rights. Building off the work of states like California, we will eliminate the misclassification of “gig economy” workers as independent contractors and rewrite our labor laws to reflect the reality of today’s economy. A fair deal for America’s workers will ensure all working people can organize for higher pay and stronger benefits, and that our national prosperity benefits everyone.

We will also lift up agricultural and domestic workers by finally including them in federal labor law protections. For too long, the most vulnerable workers in our society have toiled tirelessly while being excluded from even the basic rights afforded to most other workers. That’s why I’m supporting new protections and investments for farmworkers and domestic workers. We will root out racial bias in Department of Agricultural programs, create a new “Next Generation Farmers” land trust, and help farmworkers become independent farm owners. We will also pass a new Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to raise pay and labor standards and provide dignity for all domestic workers. And in my first 100 days, we will pass immigration reform and put all undocumented people on a path to citizenship.

This fight is personal.

My grandmother cleaned houses to provide for our family. My mother, like so many organizers in the Chicano movement, was inspired by the activism of the farmworker movement. I learned from a young age that the people who pick our food or clean homes do hard jobs and deserve respect. As president, I will put the concerns of farmworkers and domestic workers front and center. It’s time for the people who run America to actually listen to the people who make America run.

This Workers First labor policy builds off my economic plan for working families. We need a new 21st Century Safety Net: universal child care, paid family and medical leave, national sick leave, at least a $15 minimum wage, a $3,000 child tax credit per child, and a massive expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to reward hard work and dramatically reduce poverty. In the wealthiest nation on the planet, we will stop taxing work more than wealth and invest in working families. I believe that by empowering working families, our nation will be the most just and prosperous nation on Earth in this 21st Century.

Fundamentally, this bold vision for America is about justice and dignity for everyone. We need to supercharge the power of working people to fight for their rights to organize and reinvigorate unions for all. By reforming our labor laws, we will confront the injustice and inequality of the law today: industries like agriculture and domestic work, with primarily Black and Latino workers, were left out of federal labor protections, and thus our economic prosperity. We can learn from the past and ensure no one is left behind in the future. As president, we will put workers first with a new fair deal for American workers and a more just economy for everyone.


Julián Castro for President 2020

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