Two weeks into his presidency, Joe Biden is showing signs he may make good on his election eve pledge to be “the most pro-union President you’ve ever seen.” So far, the pro-labor moves included executive orders and personnel changes:
- Cleaning house at the NLRB Less than an hour after he was sworn in Jan. 20, Biden emailed Peter Robb–the Trump-appointed general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)– to say he had until 5 p.m. to voluntarily resign or be fired, 10 months before his term was set to expire. The NLRB is supposed to protect the union rights of private sector workers, but Robb, a management attorney who helped Ronald Reagan bust the air traffic controllers union, had worked to roll back those rights, refused to spend the budget Congress passed for his agency, and even sued in federal court to curtail the use of the union inflatable “Scabby the Rat.” Robb refused to resign, and was fired that day, the first NLRB general counsel to be forced out in over 50 years. When Robb’s deputy Alice Stock, another anti-union Trump appointee, assumed the role of acting general counsel, Biden demanded her resignation the next day. She refused, and Biden fired her too. That left Peter Sung Ohr, a career NLRB attorney, in charge, and within weeks, Ohr moved to halt anti-union cases Robb had pending in courts.
- OSHA action on COVID COVID-19 has been the biggest on-the-job hazard in OSHA’s 50-year history, but Trump’s OSHA defied union pleas that employers be required to take measures to protect workers. On Day 2 of his presidency, Biden ordered OSHA to consider an emergency temporary rule by March 15, 2021.
- $15 an hour On Day 3 of his presidency, Biden ordered a report to be drafted with recommendations to promote a $15/hour minimum wage for federal employees.
- Restore federal worker union rights The same executive order reversed a series of Trump executive orders that had barred unions that represent federal workers from using government office meeting rooms and ended the right of federal worker union officers to use paid time to work on union grievances.
- ‘Buy American’ On Jan. 25, Biden signed an executive order declaring that federal purchasing will maximize use of U.S. made goods and services. The order tightens the definition of what constitutes American-made products, makes waivers to buy foreign goods harder to get, and sets up a Made in America Office in the Office of Management and Budget. Under Trump, federal procurement of foreign-made products actually increased.
- Green jobs now On Jan. 27, Biden issued an executive order on tackling the climate crisis, which calls specifically for “union jobs” nine times. The order announces plans to electrify the federal government’s vehicle fleet, including United States Postal Service vehicles, spurring jobs at U.S. automakers. And to power them, the order announces plans to build a nationwide network of half a million electric-car charging stations. The order also pauses new oil and natural gas leases on public lands, and calls for the creation of well-paying union jobs plugging leaks in oil and gas wells and reclaiming abandoned mine land. The order earned immediate praise from the AFL-CIO and IBEW.