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U.S. Representative Bobby C. Scott ’69 (D-Va.) spoke at Harvard Law School about his labor agenda for the 118th Congress on Friday.
The newly-formed Center for Labor and a Just Economy invited Scott to address the Harvard Trade Union Program’s annual John T. Dunlop Memorial Forum, named after former Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean and Secretary of Labor John T. Dunlop. The talk honors speakers who have done notable work in industrial and labor relations.
At the forum Friday, which returned this year for the first time since 2020, Scott discussed the current state of the labor movement.
“Ultimately, the labor movement has built a middle class by giving workers a voice on the job,” he said. “And as such, it should be no surprise that unions are popular among the American people.”
Scott also spoke about the challenges faced by the labor movement. According to Scott, while many unions have recently succeeded in organizing, some have faced “a slew of unfair labor practices” and other hurdles.
“The summer of 2022, the General Counsel for the NLRB alleged over 200 violations of the National Labor Relations Act it stopped at the Starbucks locations in Buffalo, New York, alone,” he said. “These violations included firing organizers, closing stores, reducing compensation, and surveilling workers organizing activities.”
Founded by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the National Labor Relations Board governs U.S. labor practices and is composed of a five-member “quasi-judicial body” and a General Counsel, who serves as a prosecutor.
Scott said that “anti-union campaigns” are part of a “growing trend,” saying that according to studies, “87 percent of employers conducted anti-union campaigns during union elections.”
“Many of these employers have gotten away scot-free because the federal agencies do not have the resources needed to adequately enforce labor laws, and when they do get around to enforcing them, the sanctions are sometimes meaningless,” Scott said.
He also spoke about his policy agenda regarding labor issues for the current session of Congress. Scott said he plans to re-introduce the Protect the Right to Organize Act, which was previously passed by the House of Representatives in the 116th and 117th Congresses but was never considered by the Senate.
Among other provisions, the act would bar employers from retaliating against employees who engage in protected activities, such as informing enforcement agencies about potential labor violations and choosing not to perform activities that they believe could constitute a labor violation.
“Specifically, the bill introduces meaningful, enforceable penalties for companies and executives that violate workers’ rights,” he said.
Scott said that he plans to join Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) in re-introducing another bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which addresses the gender pay gap. DeLauro has previously unsuccessfully introduced the bill in the 105th through 117th Congresses.
“Today, women are the sole or co-breadwinner in two-thirds of American families with children,” Scott said. “Yet, after five decades of the Equal Pay Act, the gender gap still presents in nearly every line of work regardless of qualifications or job training, disproportionately harming women of color and children.”
Scott also noted the importance of apprenticeship programs, speaking about his advocacy for the National Apprenticeship Act. The act would authorize the establishment of an Office of Apprenticeship within the Department of Labor, which would promote and provide funding for apprenticeship programs.
In Friday’s talk, Scott said the act would “create an additional one million apprenticeship opportunities.”
“Simply put, the National Apprenticeship Act is good for workers and for communities,” he said.
After his remarks, Scott answered questions from the audience. Kristie R. Bailey, associate executive director of the New York Professional Nurses Union, asked Scott about the exclusion of union staff from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives the student debt of those working in government or for a nonprofit after a number of payments.
Scott responded by saying that expanding debt forgiveness to cover those working in advocacy might allow lobbyists to access the program, though he added that the question of including union staff is “certainly something we’d want to revisit.”
“I did not feel satisfied by the Congressman’s answer,” Bailey said in an interview after the talk, adding that she felt Scott engaged in the “slippery slope logical fallacy” in his answer.
Scott reiterated his goals in an interview after the event.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in labor management and union rights,” he said.
—Staff writer Jo B. Lemann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jo_Lemann.
—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @neilhshah15.
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