ISSUES

Labor and Workers’ Rights

Today our economy does not work for everyone. Connecticut is a prime example of that. Connecticut is also an example of how strong unions are essential to rectifying these imbalances. As the son of an immigrant and a CNA nurse that “salted” and helped unionize her workplace, Justin is fervently committed to the labor movement. Justin’s own activism and organizing at the local-level has been enhanced and informed by working with UNITE-HERE and New Haven Rising. At the state-level Justin has worked alongside SEIU 1199NE, coming to understand how we can and must build labor-community coalitions and advance wedge issues to achieve policy change. Justin understands that a fair and balanced economy is premised on employees having a voice in determining their working conditions through both unionization and other forms of worker representation. 

 

Yet, like much of the United States, unionization in Connecticut has plateaued in the public sector, while rapidly declining in the private sector over the last fifty years. The decline of union membership and density is shown to be a major factor in rising economic inequality over the last forty years. Upwards of one-third of the growth in income inequality has been found to correspond with the decline of unions. Declining unionization is shown too to have an adverse effect on workplace safety and pose a threat to public health. Declining unionization has even been shown to correspond with worsening mortality rates. Falling unionization has also translated into a widening racial pay disparities. Meanwhile, Connecticut is home to the highest income earners in the United States and is among the most economically unequal states. Based on the ratio of top 1% income earners to the bottom 99%, Connecticut ranks as the third highest state in income inequality in the country. Connecticut holds the highest threshold of all fifty states in what defines being part of the top 1% of income earners. Worse, the average income of the Connecticut top 0.01% of income earners is $70,196,008—over forty million dollars higher than the second highest state-level average income in the United States. 

 

Justin believes we must rectify economic inequality, including the inequalities outlined above. To do this, Justin will advance fair and strong labor policies including: sectoral bargaining to strengthen labor at the negotiating table; ending captive audiences that prevent employer intimidation against unionization; putting nonunion workers in consistent contact with labor unions; creating inclusive and safe contractor workplaces through project labor agreements and community workforce agreements; the creation of workers’ standards boards to construct an additional lever of workers’ power; just cause for termination of employment to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory dismissals; a statewide solidarity fund; a state-level employee ownership center with an office devoted to unionized employee owned firms; labor education to create a climate corps for a Green New Deal; and implementing workplace safety and protections to tackle COVID-19. Justin will also stand against right-to-work laws which directly attack unions, and continue to undo any negative effects brought by the Janus decision onto Connecticut public sector labor unions.


 

Justin supports:

 

1. Sectoral Bargaining

  • ​​Sectoral bargaining is defined as a form of collective bargaining that “provides contract coverage and sets compensation [and conditions] floors for most [or all] workers in a particular occupation, industry, or region.” This means that collective bargaining happens together across a set of worksites and enterprises, rather than individual businesses or worksites.

  • Enterprise-level collective bargaining is shown to reduce race and gender pay gaps. Research shows that sectoral bargaining—otherwise referred to as multi-employer bargaining—only bolsters these benefits among unionized workers with significant leveling effects across society.

  • While in many cases sectoral bargaining requires greater union density and federal reform, there are places where sectoral bargaining can be implemented at the state-level and have a leveling ripple effect. 

  • Justin believes that one place to start with sectoral state-level bargaining is public education. If teachers and paraprofessionals were allowed to collectively bargain across employers and across school districts, they could raise and equalize their working conditions, as well as streamlining shifting expenses from municipalities to the state. This equalization would thereafter allow the state and municipalities to determine what further reforms are needed to achieve an equal, fair, and quality education for all.

  • Justin therefore believes in a form of state-level education bargaining that would not do away with district-level negotiations, but rather allow for the latter to focus on school district-specific issues through district-riders. Sectoral bargaining can be a force for an equal, fair, and quality education across all of Connecticut, and serve as an example for sectoral bargaining in other sectors, industries, and occupations as well. 

2. Ending Captive Audience Meetings

  • Workplace intimidation often occurs in the form captive audience meetings, where employers call mandatory staff-wide meetings that discourage unionization. Captive audience meetings create a hostile environment by discouraging unionization efforts, and muzzling worker’s concerns.

  • Justin believes we must put an end to captive audience meetings in order to secure the rights of all workers and secure safe conditions for workers to exercise their right to unionize. 

  • Justin will seek to create a legal accountability framework that ensures employers do not continue to operate captive audience meetings. This includes employers being required to state in advance that a non-compulsory meeting concerning unionization will be held. If compulsory meetings are held as well as without prior notification, workers will be enabled to take their employer to court.Ending captive audience meetings is one critical way to increase union density.

3. Increase Union Density through More Workforce Contact with Labor Unions

  • As shown above, Justin believes we need sectoral bargaining in more industries and regions, but to establish sectoral bargaining we first need greater union density. To increase union density, Justin believes we need nonunion workers to have more consistent contact with labor unions.

  • Right now, however, mass layoffs in response to COVID-19 threaten to accelerate declining union density in the U.S. This trend is compounded by the strong disconnect between unions and administering of unemployment insurance and other types of government assistance. This is not the case everywhere, and it doesn’t have to be the case in Connecticut either. 

  • Countries such as Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Belgium all have some version of what is called “the Ghent System,” which means labor unions are charged with administering unemployment benefits paid out by the government. This puts unions into close formal contact with the workforce, and helps the broader public navigate unemployment insurance bureaucracies that individuals otherwise struggle to navigate.

  • Unions administering unemployment insurance translates into a much higher takeup rate of those eligible for unemployment insurance. It is estimated that between 25% and 50% of eligible U.S. workers do not use their available unemployment benefit, whereas in Sweden and Denmark 85% of those eligible received unemployment insurance. In Sweden and Denmark, labor unions have been central to making this happen.

  • Union administered unemployment insurance also positively impacts unionization rates. Some researchers estimate that union density increases by at least twenty percentage points due to the Ghent system. 

  • Justin believes in designing a Connecticut unemployment insurance program based on the Ghent system, where unions administer unemployment insurance to both assist workers in navigating complicated bureaucracies, as well as to increase contact between the broader workforce and unions.

 

4. Support Project Labor Agreements & Community Workforce Agreements

  • Employers themselves have found that unionized construction projects are safer, suffer fewer violations, and have fewer stop work orders than non-union contract projects.

  • Justin will be a proponent of project labor agreements (PLAs). PLAs both protect against ballooning costs to public and private contracting projects and constitute a framework to affirm the rights of labor on such projects. 

  • Justin will also advocate for PLAs that include Community Workforce Agreements, which focus on two goals: job access and job quality. Community workforce agreements expand access to union jobs for Black workers, Indigenous workers, and workers of color. 

  • Justin has seen the power of Community Workforce Agreements in his work with New Haven Rising. This includes the historic Jobs Agreement signed between UNITE-HERE, New Haven Works and Yale University, which has provided hundreds of jobs to residents from neighborhoods of need. 

  • Justin believes in PLAs that include clearly articulated hiring goals; defined targeted employment category; defined Good Faith Effort; and strong monitoring process. These can also include strong provisions around ensuring clean and green work environments and project outcomes. 

  • Justin believes that effective community workforce agreements will include community groups working together with unions to design structures of inclusivity, conduct effective outreach, and ensure that employers are held accountable by both workers and residents.

 

5. Workers’ Standards Boards

  • Justin recognizes the limitations imposed by the National Labor Relations Act on state and local government action. Accordingly, Justin is committed to enacting reforms that elevate workers’ voices and rights where not preempted by federal labor law, and where statewide minimum wage and protections fall short. 

  • For Justin, this includes Workers’ Standards Boards, which exist  at the state-level in New York, New Jersey, and California, as well as in municipalities like Seattle. In New York, the Board increased the fast food industry minimum wage to $15-per-hour.

  • Justin will push legislation to create Workers’ Standard Boards, vested with a range of powers that include: investigating challenges faced by workers; setting minimum wage on a sectoral and occupational basis; benefits; workplace protections; scheduling requirements; paid leave; training & professionalization standards; and portable benefits funds.

  • Justin recognizes that Workers’ Standard Boards can also be a vehicle for worker organization. Accordingly, Justin believes that workers should directly elect their own representatives to Workers’ Standards Boards that are also inclusive of representation from employers and the public. Examples of this include proposed legislation in Maine.

  • Justin believes that Workers’ Standard Boards should set industry-wide minimums in wages, protections and benefits that have parity with collective bargaining agreements. Justin believes these Boards should never explicitly set ceilings that ultimately harm workers. 

  • Justin believes that service industry boards could include consumer and service recipient representatives, further bolstering calls for labor protections that likewise protect service recipients and consumers.

  • Justin also believes Workers’ Standard Boards must possess strong enforcement mechanisms, including co-enforcement with worker organizations and Connecticut labor unions. These rules should be applied to those classified as independent contractors, to ensure employers cannot undercut policy through misclassification.

  • Justin believes in establishing Workers’ Standard Boards because they will also enable unions to expand their reach and build worker power by generating opportunities to organize workers to give testimony and mobilize around concrete issues.

 

6. Just Cause Employment

  • At-will employment means that workers can be fired without being given a reason. This creates a hostile environment again unionization efforts, while excaberating discrimination along the lines of race, gender, and sexual orientation. When cause is not required for terminating employees, it becomes exceedingly difficult to prove that a wrongful termination has occurred.

  • Justin believes that Connecticut must have a just cause law similar to Montana, requiring that after a probationary period, employers provide a valid or just cause in order to terminate a person’s employment.

  • Justin believes that just cause laws will strengthen the impact of existing anti-discrimination laws and protections as well.

  • Additionally, research shows that just cause laws can have a positive impact on employment growth.

 

7. Statewide Connecticut Solidarity Fund through a CEO Pay Ratio Tax

  • The most significant source of leverage from workers is to withhold their labor. Yet, there are great risks of going on strike. Without adequate savings and social support, it could mean being unable to pay the mortgage or rent, cover healthcare costs, or even put food on the table.

  • When workers aren’t able to  withhold their labor, they have little recourse to address inadequate working conditions.

  • Justin believes in creating a Statewide Solidarity Fund that Connecticut workers can draw on to meet their financial obligations during a labor stoppage.  

  • This fund would be paid for by a CEO-to-median worker pay ratio tax. Connecticut companies are reported to have CEO-to-median employee pay ratios as high as 357-to-1, whereas over fifty years ago CEO compensation rarely exceeded 20-to-1. Drawing on CEO pay ratio tax policy proposals, such as that proposed in California, we can disincentivize ballooning executive compensation as well as increase workers power on the job. A board of elected union leaders would also be in charge of administering the CT solidarity fund.

 

8. Unionized Worker Cooperatives and Employee Ownership

  • As shown in Justin’s Ownership for All platform, Justin believes in the necessity of expanding employee ownership to address the impact of mass retirement of baby boomer business owners, broaden business ownership, and address income and wealth inequality.

  • Justin believes labor unions should have a significant place in the expansion of employee ownership, such as in the form of developing unionized worker cooperatives. These are businesses that operate according to one worker, one vote, but are also unionized to provide these worker-run businesses with union expertise in conflict resolution.

  • To achieve this, Justin will draw on concrete examples, including the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative, which is supported by the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Central Labor Council; the United Steelworkers and their partnership with Mondragon worker cooperative; and Cooperative Homecare Associates, the largest worker cooperative in the United States and unionized by SEIU 1199. 

  • Justin believes in a Connecticut State Employee Ownership Center that works in partnership with Connecticut labor unions to design and implement models of unionized worker cooperatives and employee ownership.

 

9. Labor Education to Create a Climate Corps for a Green New Deal

  • As a champion for a Green New Deal, Justin believes we need to revamp and deepen our investment in workforce development for a just transition. Labor is an essential component to a Green New Deal that centers renewable energy and models of stewardship.

  • Justin believes we need fully-funded and sustained union partnerships between trade schools and state public colleges to train a Climate Corps of young workers, and provide a just transition for workers currently involved in fossil fuel industries.

  • Justin also believes we need to resource the implementation of teaching Labor History in Connecticut K-12 public schools. More than labor history, the existing law in Connecticut includes teaching about labor protections and collective bargaining. K-12 students are the next generation of workers and many in high school are already working long hours. No student should leave K-12 not knowing what a union is, what collective bargaining is, and how the labor movement has brought us a range of benefits we still reap today.

  • Justin believes the current and next generation of workers will power a Green New Deal, and that the labor movement is essential to that project.

10. Workplace Safety and Protection during COVID-19

  • Laws are on the books that offer a range of protections to workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, an employer may have wrongfully terminated an employee if the workplace is not made “reasonably safe” and an employee refuses to work in unsafe conditions.

  • While employees are advised to consult or file a complaint Occupational Safety & Health Division at the Connecticut Department of Labor, investigations may take a long time before any charge is made or resolution found.

  • Justin believes employee protection from unsafe working conditions during COVID-19 is an urgent matter, and therefore supports employees being equipped with a private right of action to enforce rights of workplace safety. 

  • Justin also supports codification of an Airborne Transmissible Disease Standard (ATD). California OSHA already has such a code on the books which includes requiring employers to have written procedures, airflow tests, property respiratory protections, and more. In Connecticut this could be implemented right away in the public sector, setting a model statewide. Justin believes this is needed alongside a Heat Stress Standard to prevent heat-induced illnesses.

  • Safety cannot wait, especially during COVID-19. 

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Approved by Justin Farmer.

Paid for by JustinforCT, Laurie Sweet, Treasurer.

4 Prospect Ct
Hamden, CT 06517

JustinforCT@gmail.com

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