Highlighting UAW ties, Cory Booker unveils labor plan as GM workers strike

Booker’s grandfather was a union rep in Detroit and worked on an assembly line during World War II

Sen. Cory Booker is unveiling a labor policy plan amid a UAW-GM strike. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Cory Booker is unveiling a labor policy plan amid a UAW-GM strike. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 18, 2019 at 12:00pm

As a General Motors strike continues for a third day, presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker is rolling out his labor policy plan.

As part of the unveiling, the Democrat from New Jersey is embracing his family’s history with organized labor, and in particular, the United Auto Workers.

“I learned the power of collective action from my grandfather who was an assembly line worker and UAW union rep in Detroit,” Booker said in a statement. Organized labor is, of course, a  key constituency in the Democratic primary field.

Booker has said his grandfather was one of the first black members of the UAW at Ford Motor Co.

Like many in the Jim Crow South, Booker’s grandfather moved north seeking a better life in the industrial Midwest, landing a manufacturing job during World War II on one of Detroit’s assembly lines, the campaign said.

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In the sweeping set of proposals, Booker focuses in part on gig economy workers, who have traditionally not been organized.

Drivers for ride-hailing services, people who work for food delivery apps and in similar roles have generally been defined as independent contractors. Booker would seek to change that, it appears largely through administrative and regulatory action.

“Cory believes that all workers deserve rights in their workplace. As president, he would support new rules like the ‘ABC test’ to clarify when workers can be classified as independent contractors and improve enforcement to prevent worker misclassification by providing adequate resources to agencies,” a summary of the plan says. “Cory would also strengthen ‘joint employer standards,’ which is essential for establishing who workers are able to bargain with and for holding companies appropriately accountable for instances in which they share control over illegal working conditions.”

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The ABC test is one method of determining whether or not a worker is actually an independent entity from the employer, based in part on whether the work is outside the regular scope of their employer’s business operations.

The proposal goes far beyond the mechanics of labor policy and union protections, also highlighting Booker’s proposed tax policies. Among the most interesting parts of the labor plan, however, is an effort to allow collective bargaining for entire industries.

“Sectoral bargaining allows workers to organize to raise wages and standards across entire industries,” the plan summary says. “Organizing across multiple employers has a successful history in the U.S. including in the auto, steel, trucking and construction industries, and Cory has stood with Fight for $15 workers as they have fought to raise wages in the fast food industry.”

Like most Democrats, Booker also wants to make it easier to form unions by making it easier to conduct union elections, as well as to enact the legislation known as the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is designed to make it easier to act against companies with a gander-based pay disparity.

The proposal was reviewed by CQ Roll Call before its formal release, and it incorporates several existing legislative measures. That includes a Booker bill that would require companies making stock buybacks to make similar or equivalent distributions to their workforce.

Booker also incorporates a number of proposals already popular among Democrats, including the effort to boost the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour.

Wednesday’s plan includes a previously announced proposal as a reminder that Booker also wants to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide up to $4,000, and effectively expand the definition of earned income for the purposes of qualifying for the credits.

Under a Booker proposal known as the Rise Credit, Booker “would redefine what we mean as ‘work’ to include low-income students and family caregivers — because traditional wage earners aren’t the only Americans who are working hard to support their families,” the proposal says.

Booker has been in the second-tier of Democratic presidential candidates, having enough support to make the debate stage but well behind the frontrunners including former Vice President Joe Biden and Senate colleagues Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

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