Opportunity and Justice for Workers

Cory’s grandfather migrated from the Jim Crow South to Detroit, where he landed a union job on the assembly lines during World War II that brought him and his family, including Cory’s mom, out of poverty. His dad grew up in a segregated mountain town in North Carolina but was able to lift himself and his family into the middle class in the span of a generation. For them, and countless others, the story was the same: if you work hard in America, America will work for you.

But today, for most people in this country, our economy is broken. Nearly half of all workers make less than $15 per hour, and four in 10 American adults would have to sell something or borrow from family or friends just to cover an emergency $400 expense. Even middle-income families are being held back by stagnant wages and crushing debt. While the stock market surges to record highs, one in five American households have zero or negative net worth.

For Cory, the problems in our economy — wage stagnation, systemic racism, and lack of opportunity — aren’t an academic exercise. When he goes home to his neighborhood in Newark, a majority Black and Brown community with a median income of about $15,000, he sees them in his friends and neighbors. And Newark isn’t alone. Across the country — from small towns to big cities — the story is the same: too many Americans have been pushed to the sidelines, struggling to get by and unable to participate in the gains of our broader economic growth. Consider the fact that one of the fastest growing jobs in our economy — home health aide — pays an average salary of just $24,000. Or consider that nearly one-third of all 30-year-old men who aren’t working are either in prison or jail or were formerly-incarcerated — carrying criminal records that undermine their economic security for the rest of their lives.

Cory believes that an economy that leaves no one behind is good for everyone. He’s worked to do it his entire life — whether it’s partnering with the Laborers to start a new local union in Newark and ensure local residents benefited from federal investment, passing landmark criminal justice reform in the Senate, or supporting the rights of his campaign’s workers to form a union and voluntarily recognizing their choice to join one.

As president, Cory would work to transform our economy by empowering workers to take collective action, restructuring our laws to make our workplaces fairer and more inclusive, and rebalancing our tax system so that everyone pays - and receives - a fair share.

Empowering workers to raise wages and improve working conditions

Over the last 40 years, while worker productivity has increased 70 percent, the hourly pay of typical workers has remained essentially flat. Americans are working harder and producing more than ever before, but they aren’t seeing the benefits. The evidence is all around us: the single mom working two jobs and having to forgo basic needs just to cover the bills; or the millennial struggling to pay rent; or the countless Americans having to work into their 70s and 80s.

Cory recognizes that when workers are able to build power and work together to secure higher wages and better benefits, our entire economy does better. As president, Cory would empower workers so that everyone has a voice at work:

  • Strengthen collective bargaining and support state and local efforts to protect workers. After decades without significant reforms of our labor laws, coupled with attacks  at the federal and state levels, it’s harder than ever for workers to collectively bargain. As a result, today the percentage of workers who are union members stands at 11 percent overall and just six percent for private sector workers. As president, Cory would make it easier, not harder, for workers to engage in collective bargaining. He would fight for the PRO Act, to strengthen protections for workers’ right to organize a union, protect employees’ right to strike, and ban anti-union “right-to-work” laws; the Workplace Democracy Act, which would allow workers to form unions with a majority sign up; and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would strengthen the rights of public sector workers that were eroded by the misguided Janus decision. Cory would also protect and build on federal labor law so that states and local governments can innovate by making the National Labor Relations Act the floor, not the ceiling for labor rights.
  • Ensure that all workers have opportunities for higher wages and meaningful benefits. Practices like worker misclassification and excessive subcontracting and franchising agreements are being used to deprive ever greater numbers of workers of their rights and push more risks and costs on to workers and governments. In particular, misclassification among “gig economy” workers as independent contractors has meant that these workers have no right to minimum wage, overtime, anti-discrimination or other protections. Cory believes that all workers deserve rights in their workplace. As president, he would support new rules like the “ABC test” to clarify when workers can be classified as independent contractors and improve enforcement to prevent worker misclassification by providing adequate resources to agencies. Cory would also strengthen “joint employer standards,” which is essential for establishing who workers are able to bargain with and for holding companies appropriately accountable for instances in which they share control over illegal working conditions. These reforms will help ensure that low-income workers, who are disproportionately from communities of color, are able to organize and are covered by critical workplace protections.
  • Increase opportunities for worker organizing, including new models like sectoral bargaining. Sectoral bargaining allows workers to organize to raise wages and standards across entire industries. Organizing across multiple employers has a successful history in the U.S. including in the auto, steel, trucking and construction industries, and Cory has stood with Fight for $15 workers as they have fought to raise wages in the fast food industry. As President, Cory would support efforts that build on these models to bring multiple employers across an industry to the table, including through wage boards, that set wage and other workplace benefits and standards. Not only would such models help lift up workers in industries that pay low wages and where there is little or no traditional collective bargaining, it would also reduce firms’ incentives to cut labor costs and help high-road employers compete by leveling the playing field across these industries.
  • Expand our workforce investment system to include worker organizations and industry-wide training. Cory would work to increase investment in apprenticeships and workforce training programs that partner with unions and worker-led organizations, and expand our existing workforce training programs to include industry-wide sectoral programs that serve the needs of multiple employers in a local labor market. He would also expand training investments where unions and worker organizations are key participants in the programs and have a voice to ensure they meet workers’ needs.
  • Make sure federal contracts support good jobs. Taxpayer dollars should support good jobs that pay a living wage, provide good benefits, are safe, and protect the right to organize. As president, Cory would take action to ensure that federal funds, including contracts, grants, and tax incentives, support only responsible companies that follow labor laws and provide good jobs. Jobs funded by taxpayer dollars should pay at least $15 per hour and be covered by prevailing wage and benefits standards, prevent discrimination and enforce equal pay protections; expand access to apprenticeship and paid training; and respect workers’ right to join a union. In addition, Cory’s plan to bring dignity and choice to long-term care includes critical protections and increases Medicaid funding to improve pay for direct care workers. 

Opportunity for all

Across industry, employers engage in unfair practices that keep workers from translating their value into higher wages and better benefits. Only when workers know they are safe from discrimination, when they know they will receive equal pay for equal work, and when they know they can share in the profits that they help create will we have an economy that is just and extends opportunity to all.

All jobs should be good jobs in America, but too many don’t provide the basic dignity of a living wage, time off to care for a sick family member, or a share of the profits that a worker helps to create. As president, Cory would work to create an inclusive economy that gives workers more power over their lives and work. 

  • Fight for a $15 minimum wage and overtime protections. Cory is an original cosponsor of the Raise the Wage Act and would fight for a fair minimum wage of $15 an hour for all workers by ending the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities, youth workers, and tipped workers- which disproportionately impacts women and people of color. Cory would also update the Trump administration’s overtime standard that has left out over 8 million workers from our nation’s overtime protections and end unfair scheduling practices.
  • Restore justice for workers. Often, abusive pre-dispute mandatory arbitration clauses are buried in the fine print of employment contracts and undermine the right to organize, as well as minimum wage, overtime, anti-discrimination, and safety protections that workers rely on. Cory supports the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, which prohibits mandatory arbitration clauses that deprive workers of their right to pursue justice in court or join in collective legal action for work-related claims.
  • Time off when workers are sick or when they need to care for a loved one. The U.S. is the only industrialized country with no national paid family leave policy. Cory would push for passage of the FAMILY Act, so that workers are able to take paid time off when they need to care for themselves or a loved one, like a child, partner, or parent. He also supports efforts to expand paid family and medical leave proposals to help more low-income workers start with higher wage replacement rates. Cory would also fight for workers to be able to earn paid sick time, building on the Healthy Families Act.
  • The ability to work without fear of discrimination or harassment. Cory would push for protections from discrimination and to close loopholes that leave workers vulnerable to being fired for who they are, including with the Equality Act, to extend protections to LGBTQ Americans, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Cory would also fight against workplace harassment by pushing for the Be HEARD Act, which would ensure that workplaces have resources to prevent harassment and that all workers — including contractors, interns and trainees — are protected from workplace harassment and discrimination.
  • Equal pay for equal work. Women today are only paid about 80 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic, white men. For women of color, the gender pay gap is even greater. As president, Cory would fight to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, and would build on it with new tools to hold companies accountable and close the gender pay gap.
  • Reforming our laws to ensure fairness for domestic workers and farm workers. For too long, domestic workers and farm workers have been excluded from some of our labor laws’ basic protections — a legacy of discrimination intentionally excluding communities of color built into our labor laws. Cory would fight to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and Fairness for Farm Workers Act
  • Strengthening people’s ability to seek better job opportunities. Cory would fight to end practices that unfairly prevent workers from competing for new jobs and translating their skills and experience into higher wages and better benefits, including non-compete and “no-poaching” clauses for low-wage workers. He would also break down barriers to opportunities that often prevent the formerly incarcerated from even being considered for employment. The collateral consequences for Americans with a criminal conviction are like getting a life sentence — affecting their ability to vote, to get housing and, critically, to get back to work. Cory would sign into law his Fair Chance Act to prohibit the federal government and federal contractors from asking job applicants about their criminal history.
  • Putting workers on equal footing with shareholders. Decades of attacks on workers rights, lax antitrust enforcement, and corporate practices too often guided by short-term incentives and maximizing of shareholder value have concentrated power and wealth at the top, preventing workers from sharing in the value they create. To help rebalance these trends, Cory would sign into law his Worker Dividend Act, which targets the increasing trend of corporations using profits for stock buybacks instead of using them to raise wages for workers.
  • Supporting working families through affordable child care. Working parents across the country are struggling to pay child care costs, and there is no state where the average cost of center-based infant or toddler child care meets the federal definition of affordable (no more than 7 percent of annual household income). Building on the framework of the Child Care for Working Families Act, Cory would fight for legislation to make a sweeping federal investment in child care to make it affordable for all working families. Cory knows that we also need to invest in our child care workers, who on average earn just $11 per hour. That’s why he will support increased funding to raise wages and improve benefits for these workers.
  • Give all Americans a shot at a day’s work. Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Franklin Roosevelt believed that every American had the right to a job, and that government could ensure that every person who wants to work would be able to. Cory would fight to pass his Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act, the only bill in Congress to pilot a federal jobs guarantee in select areas because anyone who wants to work in America should be able to do so.  

A fairer tax code for workers

Our tax system disadvantages lower-income communities and communities of color by rewarding wealth more than work. And the Trump tax bill has made things far worse. Once fully phased in, 83 percent of Trump’s tax cut will flow to the richest one percent of Americans.

As president, Cory would restructure our tax code to restore justice, fairness, and opportunity for workers.

  • Repeal the Trump tax cuts for the wealthiest families and largest corporations. Amid negative economic trends for workers, including weak wage growth and record inequality, it is difficult to overstate the missed opportunity of the Trump tax bill. Rather than putting cash in the pockets of working families and people living in poverty, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) added nearly $2 trillion to the deficit to further stack the deck in favor of the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations. The corporate tax rate — slashed even beyond the wildest dreams of large corporations from 35 percent to 21 percent on the pretense that savings would unleash a wave of new jobs, higher wages, and increased capital investment, instead served to enrich corporate shareholders, with over $1 trillion in stock buybacks in 2018 alone. According to a recent report, 60 companies in the Fortune 500 paid no federal taxes at all in 2018, despite billions in profits. Of the bill’s total benefits, more than half went to the wealthiest five percent of households, while just one percent went to the poorest 20 percent. The TCJA also served to widen the already sprawling racial wealth gap: in 2018, the average white household was estimated to receive $2,020 in tax cuts, compared to $970 for Latinx households and $840 for Black households. Cory would repeal these tax cuts, and work to swiftly restructure our tax code to restore justice and support broadly shared economic prosperity.
  • Change how we tax investments and level the playing field for those who get their income from work. The federal government taxes investment income at rates far lower than those it applies to the top salaries of American workers. Long-term capital gains and qualified dividends are taxed at up to 23.8 percent, while wages are taxed at up to 40.8 percent.[1] The preferential tax rates on investment returns overwhelmingly reward the extremely wealthy — 78 percent of the benefit accrues to the richest one percent and 90 percent to the richest five percent. For a household making more than $1 million annually, the average tax savings of the lower rate is more than $145,000 each year, versus just a $70 benefit for a household making between $50,000 and $75,000. 

On top of these lower rates, wealthy investors also benefit from the ability to choose when — and even whether — to pay tax on their capital gains. Unlike workers, who must pay tax on their earnings every year, investors pay tax only when they sell their assets or otherwise “realize” income. As a result, while workers pay full freight in taxes on their income, investors pay a special rate on theirs, if they pay it at all. The special rate on capital gains income, and the ease with which such taxes can be deferred indefinitely or avoided entirely, is why Warren Buffett pays so little on his tens of billions of dollars worth of stock in Berkshire Hathaway (and, to the extent he does pay income tax, does so at a rate that is lower than his assistant). This further exacerbates the racial wealth gap, which is already at its highest level in 25 years — the typical wealth of a white household is about 10 times more than that of a typical Black household and eight times more than a typical Latinx household.

Making sure that the wealthy - and not just workers - are paying their fair share is an essential component to restoring economic justice to our tax code. Cory’s plan would tax long-term capital gains and qualified dividends at the same individual tax rate as ordinary income — up to a top federal marginal rate of 40.8 percent.[2] In addition, for the wealthiest, he would tax gains on long-term investments annually, in what is known as a “mark-to-market” framework, rather than only when assets are sold. For traded assets with readily observable prices (e.g., stocks, bonds, and mutual funds), taxes on unrealized capital gains would be assessed annually as ordinary income. A lifetime exemption for unrealized gains in the range of up to $2 million would ensure that the tax only applies to the most well-off. In other words, individuals would only pay mark-to-market tax on unrealized gains after they have maxed out their lifetime exemption. Earners that fall below the exemption level would continue to pay capital gains taxes at realization.

Cory would also remove incentives for the wealthy to avoid tax by shifting investments into non-traded assets such as privately held businesses, art, and real estate investment properties. Cory would propose taxing these assets upon realization, as under current law, but with a new “deferral charge” for individuals over their lifetime exemption– to make up for the fact that such wealthy individuals didn’t pay annual tax on those assets as they grew in value, getting to use that money meanwhile, while workers had to pay tax on their salary every year as they earned it.[3] This reform, along with commonsense proposals outlined below, could raise as much as $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

  • Close loopholes that allow the wealthiest households to avoid paying their fair share in taxes, or not pay anything at all:
    • Carried interest. Currently, income that flows to the general partner of a private investment fund, known as carried interest, is taxed at a special, lower rate — allowing wealthy investors and hedge-fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than many middle class Americans. Cory is an original co-sponsor of the Carried Interest Fairness Act and as president, would sign it into law.
    • “Stepped-up basis” loophole. Under Cory’s plan, the wealthiest Americans would no longer be able to avoid paying taxes on capital gains by simply holding onto assets until death. Instead, death and transfers of assets to other family members or entities would be deemed a realization event. Gifts of appreciated property to charity would be treated as realization events.
    • Real estate “like kind exchange” loopholes. Under current law, real estate investors can avoid paying capital gains taxes by using section 1031 “like-kind exchanges,” where they can sell one property that has gains and roll those into the cost basis of a newly acquired real estate investment, deferring the tax.  Under Cory’s plan, these exchanges would be deemed realization events and taxed accordingly.
    • Estate tax reform. The Trump tax bill let extremely wealthy households to pass on up to $22.8 million to heirs tax-free — doubling the previous amount. Cory would end this giveaway and restore our estate tax structure to 2009 levels and rates, and add higher rates for extremely large estates.
  • Raise the floor for low-wage workers by putting money back in their pockets

Millions of Americans find themselves with more month at the end of their money than money at the end of their month. While the cost of everything — from prescription drugs to childcare to rent — is going up, wages for many are flat. Creating a fairer, more just tax code begins with putting money in the pockets of Americans trying to get ahead. That’s why Cory has long fought to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and has proposed the Rise Credit, a massive tax credit for low- and middle-income Americans.

The Rise Credit would represent the biggest expansion and reimagining of the popular Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in history, providing up to $4,000 to working Americans making less than $90,000/year. It would redefine what we mean as “work” to include low-income students and family caregivers — because traditional wage earners aren’t the only Americans who are working hard to support their families. It would also allow all filers — including immigrants, to claim benefits, by requiring either a SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

Finally, the Rise Credit would be user-friendly and accessible through simplified, automatic filings to ensure everyone who earns the credit receives the help, and by creating an option for more frequent payments throughout the year to help low-income people deal with rising costs of living.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that an expanded EITC like the Rise Credit would benefit about 154 million people — nearly half of all Americans. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, while 87 percent of the benefits of Trump’s tax cuts went to the top 40 percent wealthiest households, 86 percent of the Rise Credit would benefit the 60 percent lowest income households. All told, it would lift nearly 15 million people out of poverty, cutting poverty in our country by one-third. It would also boost the whole economy, building prosperity for all Americans.

[1] 40.8% rate is based on 37% top marginal rate plus 3.8% Medicare surtax.

[2] Individuals and households currently in the 0% bracket (taxpayers currently earning up to $78,750--or $100,750 including the standard deduction) for long-term capital gains would continue at their same rate. Current exemptions for gains on primary residences up to $500,000 per couple, retirement accounts up to $3.4 million, and other existing programs to support investments in high-poverty areas would be preserved.

[3] The deferral charge would ensure that there’s no tax advantage to investing in non-traded assets; otherwise there would be a big tax incentive to hoard wealth and capital gains in those assets. The tax due upon realization would be computed as if the capital gains tax had been due each year, assuming a constant rate of appreciation. The deferral charge would only apply to gains realized after the taxpayer exceeds the $2 million lifetime exemption on combined realized and unrealized gains. Taxpayers could choose to prepay estimated taxes to avoid the deferral charge. This idea was proposed by David Miler. See "A Comprehensive Mark-to-Market Tax for the 0.1% Wealthiest and Highest-Earning Taxpayers," January 2016, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2710738

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