Bernie Sanders hasn’t won his seat in the Oval Office just yet, but, ahead of a planned speech before America’s largest union federation, the AFL-CIO, the Vermont senator’s campaign released a broad plan to bolster the country’s badly depleted union membership. Tech companies that have expressed anti-union views or that rely on gig-work labor have every reason to be worried, should he win the presidency.
(Disclosure: Gizmodo’s editorial staff are members of the Writers Guild of America, East, which is part of the AFL-CIO.)
The major tenets of Sanders’ proposed executive order, called the Workplace Democracy Plan (WDP), all aim to make joining or maintaining a union easier, with a stated goal to double union membership over the course of Sanders’ first term in office. Among the private sector, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates about 6.4 percent of workers are currently unionized.
Several points of the WDP deprive bosses of favored tactics for stalling union drives or contract ratifications by setting deadlines for when negotiations would have to begin and allow the National Labor Relations Board to certify new unions. Preventing striking workers from being fired, repealing “right to work” laws—legislation that more than half the states have passed to undermine organized labor by make paying dues optional while unions are still required to represent non-paying workers—upholding existing contracts in the event of corporate mergers, and allowing public sector workers to strike fill out the robust proposal.
What could prove to be a major thorn in the side of tech giants, which historically are ambivalent-to-hostile on unions, is Sanders’ commitment to “deny federal contracts to employers that [...] outsource jobs overseas, pay workers less than $15 an hour without benefits, refuse to remain neutral in union organizing efforts, pay executives over 150 times more than average workers, hire workers to replace striking workers, or close businesses after workers vote to unionize” In the campaign’s newsletter, Bern Notice, Amazon is specifically called out as one such firm that “could lose big” under a Sanders administration, due to anti-union training material leaked to Gizmodo last September, as well as the company’s reported history of captive-audience meetings meant to instill anti-union sentiment.
Amazon has won contracts providing cloud computing through its Amazon Web Services division to the Department of Justice, Air Force, Department of Veterans Affairs, and NASA—and is currently in the running to secure the Pentagon’s $10 billion joint enterprise defense infrastructure (JEDI) contract.
Worst still (for Silicon Valley, anyway) is, to quote the plan, that “companies will no longer be able to ruthlessly exploit workers by misclassifying them as independent contractors.” For those keeping score at home, that’s a direct attack on the so-called “gig economy,” composed to businesses like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart, which use this classification strategy to avoid providing workers on these platforms basic rights like healthcare and overtime pay while saddling them with costs like fuel and vehicle wear. Whether this is an accurate classification has been hotly debated, both in the streets by protesting gig workers themselves and in the courts. Sanders’ plan would seemingly end that conversation once and for all in favor of gig workers who would become employees—if Sanders wins and enacts his plan.
We’ve reached out to Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and DoorDash for comment and will update if we hear back.