Workers First’ platform proposes unions for all, justice for farm workers, dignity for domestic workers and a 21st Century Safety Net
SAN ANTONIO, TX – On Wednesday, October 2, presidential candidate, former Obama Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Mayor of San Antonio, Julián Castro, unveiled his ‘Workers First’ labor platform—a new suite of policy proposals to put workers first: supporting unions for all, justice for farmworkers, dignity for domestic workers, and a 21st Century safety net for working families.
His labor platform, which was released via Medium, includes a number of bold new policies to empower workers, particularly farmworkers and domestic workers that historically have been excluded from labor law protections. Secretary Castro’s plan invests in farmworker communities, roots out discrimination in Department of Agriculture programs, and creates new opportunities for farmworkers to become the next generation of farm owners. His plan also calls for passage of a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, establishes portable benefits, and puts all undocumented individuals on a pathway to citizenship.
Secretary Castro’s Workers First plan aims to more than double union participation by strengthening the National Labor Relations Board, reserving workers a seat on corporate boards, advancing sectoral bargaining, ending the misclassification of independent contractors, and ensuring all workers can exercise their right to organize. This platform builds off his economic plan for working families which includes universal child care, paid family and medical leave, sick leave, at least a $15 living wage, a $3,000 child tax credit per child, and a massive Earned Income Tax Credit expansion to reward hard work and dramatically reduce poverty.
“I grew up in a working class household with two strong women,” said Secretary Julián Castro. “My grandmother worked her entire life as a maid, a cook, and a babysitter. My mom was a community organizer in the Chicano movement. Ensuring our economy and our democracy works for working people is not theoretical for me, it’s personal. This Workers First labor platform will spark economic opportunity, empower workers with justice and dignity, and ensure all workers are included in our future prosperity.”
The full Workers First labor platform can be viewed here and below:
A Fair Deal for a More Just Economy
My family’s story starts with my grandmother, Victoria. She worked her entire life as a maid, a cook, and a babysitter. She cleaned the houses of wealthy families to afford the rent and raised my mom as a single parent. My brother and I grew up on the West Side of San Antonio, attended public schools, and watched my mom work as an organizer in a community still grappling with the legacy of segregation. She taught us to fight for justice and equality for everyone. I believe that all work has dignity and all workers should be valued with good pay, solid benefits, and the security of a strong union.
Over the last four decades, working people have contributed more and more to our economic prosperity, but paychecks have not kept pace with the rising cost of living. The share of national wealth going to corporations is growing, while the share of income for labor is historically low. We’ve had a tug of war between workers and investors, and people who labor for a living are losing out. Corporate profits are up, the stock market is soaring, yet median income is the same as in 1999. Average hourly wages peaked 45 years ago. This is not by accident: the number of union members reached its high in 1979. The power of workers to organize and ability of unions to push back against giant corporations is at its weakest point since World War II.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s cheap talk and promises to American workers is a complete fraud. This has been the most anti-worker, anti-union administration in recent history. From rolling back worker protections and relaxing child labor rules to reducing the number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors and urging the Supreme Court to discriminate against LGBTQ+ indivduals, labor rights are under assault everywhere. I have a completely different vision for the future that puts workers first and working families in a position to thrive in a 21st Century economy.
Workers need a new champion in the White House — a president who will fight for the rights of working people to organize, join a union, and build a more just economy. And the American people are ready for change.
Last year, a record number of American workers, nearly half a million workers, went on strike. Teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma, nurses in California and Florida, fast food workers in North Carolina and Iowa, all took to the streets to protest for better pay and fair benefits. This spring, the Stop & Shop strike was the largest private sector work stoppage in years. And for the first time in a dozen years, GM auto workers have set up picket lines to protest for a fair share of profits. There is a growing movement to ensure our economy works for working people. Now is the moment to shift the balance of power into the hands of workers.
That’s why I’m proposing a Workers First labor policy — a new plan for a fair deal for America’s workers and a more just economy for everyone. This is a new suite of policies to put workers first: unions for all, justice for farmworkers, dignity for domestic workers, and a 21st Century Safety Net for working families.
A central focus of my administration will be empowering workers through collective action for higher wages, better benefits, and a stronger economy. My Workers First plan aims to more than double union membership and reach a new high of union participation. We will eliminate barriers to join a union and direct the Department of Labor to support sectoral bargaining to raise labor standards industry-wide for everyone. In a Castro administration, workers will have a seat on corporate boards for a stronger voice in the workplace. We will strengthen the National Labor Relations Board to prevent employers from abusing workers and hold corporations accountable for retaliating against workers who exercise their rights. Building off the work of states like California, we will eliminate the misclassification of “gig economy” workers as independent contractors and rewrite our labor laws to reflect the reality of today’s economy. A fair deal for America’s workers will ensure all working people can organize for higher pay and stronger benefits, and that our national prosperity benefits everyone.
We will also lift up agricultural and domestic workers by finally including them in federal labor law protections. For too long, the most vulnerable workers in our society have toiled tirelessly while being excluded from even the basic rights afforded to most other workers. That’s why I’m supporting new protections and investments for farmworkers and domestic workers. We will root out racial bias in Department of Agricultural programs, create a new $2 billion “Next Generation Farmers” land trust, and help farmworkers become independent farm owners. We will also pass a new Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to raise pay and labor standards and provide dignity for all domestic workers. And in my first 100 days, we will pass immigration reform and put all undocumented people on a path to citizenship.
This fight is personal. My grandmother cleaned houses to provide for our family. My mother, like so many organizers in the Chicano movement, was inspired by the activism of the farmworker movement. I learned from a young age that the people who pick our food or clean homes do hard jobs and deserve respect. As president, I will put the concerns of farmworkers and domestic workers front and center. It’s time for the people who run America to actually listen to the people who make America run.
This Workers First labor policy builds off my economic plan for working families. We need a new 21st Century Safety Net: universal child care, paid family and medical leave, national sick leave, at least a $15 minimum wage, a $3,000 child tax credit per child, and a massive expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to reward hard work and dramatically reduce poverty. In the wealthiest nation on the planet, we will stop taxing work more than wealth and invest in working families. I believe that by empowering working families, our nation will be the most just and prosperous nation on Earth in this 21st Century.
Fundamentally, this bold vision for America is about justice and dignity for everyone. We need to supercharge the power of working people to fight for their rights to organize and reinvigorate unions for all. By reforming our labor laws, we will confront the injustice and inequality of the law today: industries like agriculture and domestic work, with primarily Black and Latino workers, were left out of federal labor protections, and thus our economic prosperity. We can learn from the past and ensure no one is left behind in the future. As president, we will put workers first with a new fair deal for Amercan workers and a more just economy for everyone.
Empower Workers with Unions for All
Income-inequality in the United States is at an all-time high. While worker productivity has increased by 70% since 1979, real wages have not kept pace, increasing by about 12%. Failed economic policies have increased income inequality to the highest level in half a century. Workforce unionization has fallen by more than half, down from 20% in 1983 to 10.7% today, enabled by anti-worker Republican legislatures and Mitch McConnell’s takeover of federal courts. My plan calls for strengthening the rights of unions and workers, increasing union density in American society, and pursuing new ways of bargaining between unions and industries to ensure negotiated labor protections are a part of employment in the United States.
- Promote the rights of workers to organize. As president, I will preempt states from instituting so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws, allow union certification if a majority of employees choose to join, and ensure unions and employers have a clear path to negotiating their first contract by passing the Workplace Democracy Act. I will also strengthen the National Labor Relations Board’s ability to levy meaningful fines on employers by creating a private right of action for labor violations, preventing the ability of employers to impede unionization, and improving worker rights by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.
- Ensure workers have a meaningful role and stake in corporate governance. I support reforms to corporate governance to encourage codetermination and a more democratic workplace. As president, I will require large, publicly traded corporations to reserve at least one-third of board seats for workers that are directly elected by non-management employees.
- Advance the use of sectoral bargaining. This approach will allow workers to organize for higher wages across entire industries. Today unions largely negotiate with a single employer — expanding negotiations to multiple employers with unions representing the industry’s workforce would increase worker negotiating power and improve mobility between employers within an industry. Setting the stage for sector-wide bargaining will require increasing union density and power. It can also be assisted by policies like establishing wage boards to set negotiated sector-wide wages and increasing the use of contract extensions to extend the benefits of bargaining to all workers. Throughout this campaign, I have stood with fast food workers in the fight for $15 and as president will take the next bold step in pushing for higher wages and better benefits.
- End employee misclassification, including short-term contract workers and workers in the ‘gig economy.’ Employers deny workers benefits and labor protections by classifying them as ‘independent contractors.’ I support state and local efforts like California Assembly Bill 5 to apply a test to ensure workers have their rights respected and also support federal legislation to guarantee these protections.
- Establish minimum standards for public service organized labor standards in federal law. For years, public service employees like city and state government employees and teachers have been left out of many federal labor protections. I will set strong minimum standards for these workers, including ensuring their right to join a union and engage in collective action, by passing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, in addition to supporting the rights of states to go beyond federal law and require labor protections for contractors receiving state government funding.
- Prohibit anti-competitive labor practices such as non-compete agreements and franchise non-poaching agreements that limit worker freedom and mobility. I want to level the playing field between workers and businesses and oppose practices like non-compete clauses and franchise non-poaching agreements that hold workers back. In addition to ending these practices, I will pair ending these practices with protecting small businesses facing employee poaching by large businesses, cracking down on insider trading and trafficking in confidential information, and implenting anti-discrimination laws, including prohibiting discrimination against the formerly incarcerated.
- Ensure fair federal contracting and public programs to support well-paying jobs. The scale of federal investment needed to address urgent needs in education, housing, infrastructure, and climate change should lead to sustainable, well-paying jobs. The federal programs I have proposed, including in education, affordable and equitable housing, and green infrastructure, will be accompanied by project labor agreement requirements, Davis-Bacon standards, and community benefit agreements, in addition to minimum wage and anti-discrimination standards and support for worker unionization.
- Pass the Schedules that Work Act to set federal scheduling standards to support stable schedules. Unpredictable schedules place a heavy burden on families, especially single-parent families like the one I grew up in. Workers deserve consistency and predictability. The Schedules That Work Act will protect workers from unreasonable and last-minute scheduling changes and require employers to provide advance notice for any changes to working hours or location.
- Strengthen overtime rules by restoring Obama-administration rules. President Trump’s actions have removed overtime protections for 8 million workers, and I will roll back these changes to ensure workers receive the overtime pay they deserve.
Justice for Farmworkers
Farmworkers and their families face entrenched poverty, environmental racism, lack of opportunity, and a broken immigration system. Too many farmworkers are exposed to the dangers of heat stroke, sexual harassment, pesticide exposure, or deportation. The people who feed America deserve better. As president, I will expand fundamental rights to farmworkers and invest in farmworker communities.
- Include farmworkers in labor and employment law protections. Agricultural workers were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, for explicitly racist reasons. 80 years later, it’s time for agricultural labor to be protected by the law. I would pass legislation explicitly granting farmworkers the right to organize unions and participate in collective and sectoral bargaining.
- Ensure parity in wage protections for farmworkers, including minimum wage and overtime pay. Farmworkers are not subject to many federal wage laws, including overtime pay protections. I will end that exclusion by passing the Fairness for Farmworkers Act and amending the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act to allow agricultural workers who pursue legal action in cases of wage theft to be awarded attorneys fees.
- Create and enforce strict health and safety regulations, including against excessive heat, pesticide exposure, and poor air quality during wildfires or natural hazards. Farmworkers work long hours in the heat with few protections for health and safety. I support the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act to ensure access to shade and water. As president, I will also ban certain toxic pesticides such as chlorpyrifos and strengthen Environmental Protection Agency oversight of new pesticides and penalties for violators. I also support air quality safety standards for farmworkers, including poor air quality due to wildfires.
- Protect workers against crimes and workplace violations such as sexual harassment. To protect farmworkers, I will end the exclusion of agricultural labor from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. I will also prohibit the deportation of any farmworker involved in a strike, labor organizing, or other dispute with an employer, including those involving discrimination or sexual harrassment.
- End the exploitation of child labor in agriculture. According to a Government Accountability Office report, agriculture accounts for over half of all child labor deaths. Yet under current law, children as young as 12 are allowed to work in the fields. As president, I’d pass the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety, ensuring labor standards for children in agriculture are in line with those of other industries.
- Create a pathway to citizenship. At least 50% of our current farmworker labor force is undocumented. As president, I will create a fair and reasonable pathway to citizenship for all agricultural workers and their families in the U.S., regardless of immigration status as part of my People First Immigration Plan.
- Invest in farmworker communities. Beyond labor and immigration law, many farmworker families struggle with entrenched poverty and lack of opportunity. Many farmworkers live in substandard housing or lack clean drinking water. Meanwhile, the children of migrant farmworkers have one of the highest dropout rates in the country. America depends on these rural, largely Latino, communities to eat, but for decades has failed to give them a real shot at the American Dream. As president, I will invest in rural farmworker communities to ensure the families who feed us can pursue their American Dream.
- Ensure clean water for farmworkers. In addition to strengthening the Clean Water Act and reversing destructive Trump administration deregulations, I am committed to defending environmental justice for marginalized communities. Infrastructure investment in farmworker communities has been neglected for decades. I am committed to an additional $20 billion to fund clean water programs and will invest in farmworker communities to ensure they have access to water as a basic human right.
- Increase enrollment in high school and college for children from farmworker families. Establish a new $50 million scholarship program through the Department of Education Migrant Education Program and increasing the Migrant Education program to at least $500 million a year, for farmworker children in High School and College aimed specifically at supplementing family income during the work season and expand the College Assistance Migrant Program to provide scholarships for students from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds to attend college, paired with tuition-free college and increased Pell Grants.
- Support recruitment and retention of teachers for farmworker communities, including bilingual teachers, for rural schools. My People First Education Plan calls for the establishment of a national effort to fund 1-year teacher residency programs and grants to states to support transitions of local students and educational professionals into a teaching career, including Grow Your Own Programs—directing these initiatives at individuals who intend on making a life-long commitment to teaching. These programs will prioritize high-need, underserved communities, including rural communities and farmworker communities.
- Prepare farmworkers for the economy of the future. As president, I will strengthen the Department of Labor’s National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) and double its budget to $160 million to improve non-profit grantees’ ability to provide job training, financial literacy training, and other social services for farmworkers, including preparing for current farmworkers to benefit from the automation of agriculture.
- Address the shortage and poor quality of housing for farmworkers. Through my People First Housing Plan, which dedicates almost $500 billion to affordable housing construction, I will prioritize communities of highest need such as farmworker communities. I additionally support the conversion of marginal agricultural land into housing for farmworker communities and improved standards and oversight of employer-owned farmworker housing. Additionally, I will combat food insecurity in farmworker communities with a federal grant program to establish food banks as integrated into existing or new farmworker housing.
- Reform systemic discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. American agricultural policies have consistently failed people of color over decades, resulting in a decrease in farm ownership by over 90% over the last century for black and other minority farmers. That’s why my administration will ensure the USDA is reformed to truly serve everyone in farm country. I will appoint experts and activists with a track record of defending farmers of color and farmworkers to every position at USDA. We will also ensure that USDA serves not just farm owners, but farmworkers as well.
- Investigate discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA has historically failed marginalized communities and communities of color in their programs. Between 1910 and 2007, black farmers lost 80% of the land they owned. I will implement regular Government Accountability Office audits of the USDA to investigate loan practices towards marginalized communities, conduct oversight of existing and future loan and technical assistance programs to find and end racial and other disparities, and establish streamlined civil rights violation reporting to monitor discrimination.
- Create a “Next Generation Farmers” land trust to support aspiring and small farmers with acquiring land. The average age of farmers in the United States has consistently risen over decades and small farms are increasingly consolidated under corporate ownership as farmers retire, are driven out of business by corporate agriculture, or are denied resources by discrimination at the USDA. To combat this, I will establish a federal “Next Generation Farmers” land trust to support small farmers and combat the legacy and continuing effects of discrimination. The trust will fund purchases of farmland from retiring farmers who choose to voluntarily sell their land and sell land to new farmers, including farmworkers and other marginalized communities such as black farmers, or to small farmers looking to expand their family farms. This program will also support small and marginalized farmers with estate planning assistance to keep farms within their families and be coordinated with programs to extend internet access and other public services to underserved rural communities. This trust will be funded with at least $2 billion over a decade, including through antitrust and environmental penalties on large agricultural corporations and increased corporate income taxes on these corporations from the repeal of the Trump tax bill.
- Invest in farmworkers becoming independent farmers. The existing Farm Ownership Loan Program supports family farmers and ranchers in acquiring or expanding farms through loans and guarantees. I believe such programs should specifically support farmworkers in achieving their dreams to become farmers. I will establish a $1 billion loan and subsidy program through the Farm Service Agency specifically to help farmworkers to become farm owners through loans, guarantees, and technical assistance over the next decade.
Dignity for Domestic Workers
My family’s American Dream began when my grandmother, Victoria Castro, came to the United States from Mexico as a recently orphaned 7-year old. Working as a maid, a cook, and a babysitter, she provided for my mother, and then Joaquin and me. We grew up listening to her speak about her struggles of being a domestic worker in a society that often ignores people like her. Domestic labor has been excluded from national labor protections for too long, and that will end now. Listening to domestic workers like my grandmother, understanding their hardships, and valuing them in our society will be a priority as president, and that begins with rewriting our labor laws.
- Pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. I will strengthen labor protections for domestic workers, including eligibility under overtime protections, ending exclusion from anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws, strong health and safety protections such as required breaks, and establishing tools for effective enforcement.
- Ensure domestic workers who report crimes or labor violations do not face retaliation from employers or legal authorities. Domestic workers, often from marginalized communities, face significant impediments to reporting illegal and unsafe labor practices. I support protections, including protections against immigration enforcement for non-citizen domestic workers and their families, to ensure workers are protected when reporting illegal activities. This includes expanded use of the U and T-visas, visa programs for victims of crimes including workplace-related crimes and human trafficking, to ensure non-citizens are allowed to continue to reside in the United States after being victims of criminal activity. These protections also include prohibiting the sharing of immigration status between the Department of Labor and immigration enforcement agencies and ensuring workers involved in a labor dispute are shielded from punitive immigration enforcement.
- Establish portable benefits, including for paid family and medical leave and health care. Dignity for domestic workers requires a truly universal health care system that does not require regular employment or employment with a single employer to guarantee health care coverage. Certain benefits, such as paid family and medical leave through the FAMILY Act and health care will be supported through social insurance or universal health care programs and will be available regardless of immigration status. I support sectoral bargaining, joint employer standards, and federal legislation modeled on California’s AB5 to end employee misclassification to strengthen benefits such as for retirement, including through required employer contributions.
- Establish housing support for victims of human trafficking. Through my housing policy, I have committed to $50 billion in affordable housing investments each year, in addition to support for specific housing programs including for victims of domestic violence. I will establish housing programs to protect victims of trafficking.
Ensure employment-based immigration meets the needs of the American economy, including agricultural and domestic workers, and provides these workers a pathway to citizenship. Currently, our nation faces a shortage of both domestic and agricultural workers. Unfortunately, our current guest worker visa programs are broken, create an imbalance of power between sponsoring employers and worker visa-holders, and as a result are often rife with trafficking, wage theft, and other abuses. As president, I will phase out our abusive agricultural guest-worker visa system with new immigrant visa programs for agricultural and domestic workers, based on the needs of the economy, ensuring a clear pathway to citizenship, the ability to change employers, and the protection of federal labor laws for immigrants, regardless of status. These reforms will be paired with establishing a clear pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States, many of whom are agricultural or domestic workers.
Invest in a 21st Century Safety Net for Working Families
The fundamental economic challenge of our time is to reverse widening inequality and lift up working families. While the cost of living is rising, paychecks have stayed the same. My economic plan for working families will raise wages, invest in opportunity, and support working families in this 21st economy.
As president, I will ensure our economy and our country works for working people.
- Provide a $3000 child tax credit for working families to support the rising costs of raising children. This will more than double the current refundable child tax credit, will be indexed for inflation, and will be available in monthly installments.
- Increase paychecks up to $9,000 a year for working people through my Working Families First tax credit. The EITC is the single most effective anti-poverty program for working families. We should restructure the EITC to include all dependents, low-income independent students, and workers below the age of 25 and above the age of 65, ensuring folks that care for family members also have support.
- Raise the minimum wage to a living wage of at least $15 per hour for all workers, including tipped, farm, domestic, and disabled workers. Right now, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump could increase incomes for over 35 million working families — more than 1 in 4 American workers. For over a decade, we haven’t raised the minimum wage, which has been losing purchasing power every year. It would be worth over $19 an hour if we had kept pace with productivity growth.
- Invest in universal child care to give relief to working parents. This program will be available for all families and no family will pay more than 7 percent of their income.
- Ensure equal pay for equal work and end gender pay inequity by passing and building on the Paycheck Fairness Act.
- Guarantee at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for every American per year. We should compensate workers at least 66 percent of their salary during that period with a greater degree of wage replacement for low income workers. Additionally, I support expanding job protections and covering the full diversity of American families to include multi-generational families, siblings, and families in the LGBTQ community. These protections will be financed through a small contribution from employers and employees and will be implemented by passing and building on the FAMILY Act.