News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

November 24, 2020

Teachers’ unions should endorse Bernie Sanders for Labor Secretary

By Michael Tal

In the wake of Joe Biden’s Presidential victory, Senator Bernie Sanders announced that  he would accept an offer to become Biden’s Labor Secretary.

Bernie would be an activist labor secretary, fighting for the working class and to agitate around key demands that would put more power in the hands of workers. Rank-and-file workers, especially teachers, must demand Joe Biden nominate Senator Sanders for Labor Secretary. 

The Labor Secretary is responsible for a few key functions. For one, they oversee the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has broad authority to ensure workplace safety. They also oversee the Employer Retirement Income Security Act, which determines how investors can invest pensions and retirement funds, including those of teachers. Lastly, the Labor Secretary can implement new protections for workers at this unique historical moment. 

Even before COVID, teachers’ working conditions were poor. Teachers are not paid enough, their labor is frequently not paid at all, and there is often an expectation that they will spend their own money on classroom supplies. Now, with the deadly and highly contagious COVID pandemic raging through the country, local governments have had to decide on their own whether to shut down schools. Children often suffer less severe symptoms from COVID, but they are not immune, and can spread the disease without expressing symptoms

Despite these dangers, there is a battle over whether schools should be open for in-person learning. Teachers must not be forced to care for our children and to risk their lives for the capitalist system, which demands that parents continue working forty or more hours a week. Senator Sanders is already well known for his policies that prioritize teachers’ wellbeing. He has also rolled out a bold COVID response plan – one that centers everyone’s health in a way consistent with his clarion call for Medicare-for-All. It is clear that as Labor Secretary, he will be a champion for better working conditions, including COVID safety, for teachers.

Bernie would also fight for teachers’ long-term finances. Under Trump, the labor department allowed Wall Street thugs to take dangerous risks with retirement funds and pensions. Allowing Wall Street free reign in managing pension funds is akin to asking the foxes to guard the henhouse. We know that Wall Street does not have the interest of Main Street at heart, and we know who the government will bail in a crisis. Senator Sanders is famous for taking on these Wall Street parasites and as head of the Labor Department, he can weaken the capitalists’ death grip over the working class.

Moreover, it is in the interest of all workers to have a progressive visionary as labor secretary because of their broad discretion to implement policy. When Robert Reich was Bill Clinton’s labor secretary, Reich conducted an aggressive strategy of targeted audits of industries that were  flouting labor laws. In the current moment, workers are calling for unprecedented demands. Billionaires and corporations, who view workers as expendable, are buying labor laws so that they can extract even more profit for themselves — the most ominous example being Proposition 22, here in California, which categorized “gig economy” workers as private contractors rather than employees. Proponents of charter schools, who also want to weaken labor protections by closing public schools and putting unionized teachers out of work, surely smell the blood in the water, and we can’t let them win. Senator Sanders has proposed worker protections – both general and specific to COVID – that would get right to the heart of the current problems workers face, including: 

  • Using the Defense Production Act to scale up production of PPE 
  • Keeping workers in industries such as food and retail on payrolls, while covering the costs of  small and medium-sized businesses 
  • Providing cash payments of $2,000 to every person in America during the pandemic
  • Doubling union membership in the U.S

Teachers’ unions should endorse Senator Sanders for Labor Secretary, not only because he has proven he has their best interests at heart, but also because he will use his post to lay the groundwork to help the entire working class to fight for its own liberation.