You’ve probably been hearing about the PRO Act all over the news cycle, but what is it? The PRO Act is the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. On March 9, it was passed by the House of Representatives, and now it’s being debated in the Senate. I’ll post a direct link to the website to the 117th Congress for anyone interested in reading the full text of the PRO Act or H.R. 842.

The Biden Administration has thrown their support behind the PRO Act and issued a formal statement on the White House website. President Biden wrote, “Nearly 60 million Americans would join a union if they get a chance, but too many employers and states prevent them from doing so through anti-union attacks. They know that without unions, they can run the table on workers – union and non-union alike… I urge Congress to send the PRO Act to my desk…”

It’s no surprise that big business groups like the US Chamber of Commerce are pushing back against the PRO Act. The National Retail Federation blasted it as “the worst bill in Congress.” 

However, union leaders are calling on the Senate to pass it. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, told NPR, “The PRO Act would protect and empower workers to exercise our freedom to organize,” and “it’s a game-changer” to fix “wage, power, and opportunity inequalities” across the country.

When the AFL-CIO’s Secretary-Treasurer, Liz Shuler, guested on the podcast, she echoed Trumka’s sentiments. This is what she said about the PRO Act:

Listen to the full podcast of Meet the AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer, Liz Shuler, click HERE

The Wagner Act of 1935

To better understand what’s in the PRO Act, we should probably revisit the Wagner Act of 1935, also known as, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). It was written by Senator Robert Wagner, passed by both houses of Congress, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, went into effect on July 6, 1935, and upheld by the Supreme Court in NRLB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp in 1937. 

The Wagner Act created a permanent three-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The board was later amended to include five members. The act prohibited employers from setting up a company union and from firing or discriminating against workers who organized. Employers could not refuse to bargain collectively with employee representatives. 

Over the decades, the Wagner Act has been watered down. For example, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 allowed workers to refuse union membership and to decertify their union if they didn’t like their collective bargaining representation. In 1959, the Landrum-Griffin Act banned secondary boycotts and limited the right to picket. Taft-Hartley opened the doors for states to pass their own “right-to-work” laws.

If you compare the PRO Act to the Wagner Act, you might see some similarities. Employer interference and influence in union elections would be forbidden. Companies and their executives could face fines for violating workers’ rights. Remember those mandatory, anti-union company meetings arranged by Amazon officials? Well, that would be illegal under the PRO Act. 

Remember when Amazon asked the post office to install a new mailbox right before their union election? The RWDSU has asserted that this mailbox was surrounded by a tent and security cameras to make it appear like a voting booth. Under the PRO Act, workers are required to cast their ballots at a location away from company property. Amazon could face hefty fines if this was perceived as interference.

The PRO Act levels the playing field and tilts the balance of power back towards the worker. Large multi-national conglomerates like Amazon, Walmart, and Uber could no longer hold all the levers. 

“Right-to-Work” Laws

I can almost hear some of you clicking away at your keyboards or yelling at me through your iPhones: “Why should I care about paying union dues? I’m perfectly fine with my right-to-work state.” But, are you? “Right-to-work” may sound like a good thing. I mean, even the name implies it. I would venture a guess that most workers do not even know what “right-to-work” laws are.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, a typical full-time worker in a “right-to-work” state makes 3.1% less (that’s $1,558 less per year) than those in a non-right-to-work state. Workers in “right-to-work” states pay higher healthcare costs and are less likely to have pensions than those in non-right-to-work states. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace deaths in “right-to-work” states are 34% higher. 

“Right-to-work” laws are designed to weaken unions by taking money away from collective bargaining costs. For example, a union still has to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to prosecute an employer who mistreats a non-union worker as it would for a dues-paying worker. Why should you be entitled to skip out on dues while a dues-paying member shoulders the burden of your court costs and legal fees for something that you may or may not have done? That just isn’t unfair.

If you still can’t get past the “paying the dues” thing, then know that the burden isn’t real. With regular cost of living adjustments and multiemployer pension benefits, your dues will more than pay for themselves. Everyone at your job including yourself can maintain a livable wage. 

Some research has shown that earning a more satisfactory wage can result in a happier worker. According to a 2013 Gallup Workplace Poll, a happier worker is a more productive employee, and increased productivity makes for a happier employer. Didn’t our forefathers once declare in a certain declaration that all men – the sisterhood’s implied — have certain “unalienable rights” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?” 

I can’t think of a higher or more noble purpose than fulfilling the dreams of our forefathers and affirming the happiness of all workers including ourselves.

Sources:

117th Congress Website: Protecting the Right to Organize (H.R. 842)

The White House: Statement by President Joe Biden on the House Taking Up the PRO Act; Statements and Releases, March 9, 2020.

NPR: House Democrats Pass Bill That Would Protect Worker Organizing Efforts; Don Gonyea, March 9, 2020

The Balance Careers: The Wagner Act of 1935 (National Labor Relations Act); Alison Doyle, July 21, 2020.

Enjoy full podcast episodes of The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds with union and client advocate, Traci Dority-Shanklin. Available on Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon, Pandora, or check out our full library HERE on our website.

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