The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 17, 2019

Doomed PRO Act spotlights need for a prosperous U.S. labor movement

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

WASHINGTON D.C. - Rare, new pro-union legislation has been introduced in Congress that has zero chance of getting by the Republican-run U.S. Senate or President Trump. 

But it does establish a cohesive piece of legislation for lawmakers and presidential candidates to support and make a pro-worker statement and unite all factions of Democrats, from the centrists, to the far-lefties to the Greens. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, would shore up workers’ rights to strike, to organize, and to pursue litigation against employers that violate their rights.

Forty U.S. Senate Democrats joined 100 of their House colleagues on May 2 to introduce the PRO Act. Specifically, it would ban employers from forcing hires to sign away their right to pursue collective or class-action litigation and from permanently replacing workers who go on strike. It would also require employers to begin bargaining a contract no later than ten days after a union has been certified.

The bill, said New York Magazine, "is useful as an exercise in party-identity formation — a clear sign that Democrats want to shore up their pro-worker bona fides."

Organized labor has tried, and failed, to adopt sweeping pro-union legislation in the past: most recently the Employee Free Choice Act a decade ago came up just short of passage: it would have eased the organizing process and made it much easier for workers to unionize. The Democrat majority in the U.S. House will almost certainly approve some form of the PRO Act bill, while it will likely never see the light of day in the Senate, controlled by the GOP majority.

“As corporations and the wealthiest few reap the biggest benefits of the Trump-GOP tax law, wages remain stagnant, economic inequality deepens, and American workers are left behind," said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "Unions have long fought for American workers and helped families reach the middle class, strengthening their ability to bargain for fair wages and safe working conditions. These days, big corporate special interests, backed by Congressional Republicans, are ramping up their attacks on Americans’ right to organize, silencing the voices of hardworking Americans trying to make ends meet. 

"I proudly support the PRO Act because it returns rights to workers and restores the power of unions and collective bargaining. This bill is a critical step towards protecting American workers and dismantling the rigged system that undermines workers’ freedoms."

On May 8 AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka testified before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions in support of the PRO Act. He pointed out research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that found more than half of non-union workers, more than 60 million, would vote to join a union today if given the chance. And Gallup recently put the popularity of unions at 62 percent—a 15-year high.

In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that 2018 was the biggest year for collective action in three decades, including teachers from West Virginia to Arizona, and Google employees. "Workers in every sector and every region are embracing the transformational power that comes from joining together in common cause," Trumka said. 

Following is a substantial excerpt from Trumka's testimony:

"So why haven’t we seen a rise in union membership commensurate with this surge in approval, recognition and desire? The answer is clear: Our woefully outdated labor laws no longer serve as an effective means for working people to have our voices heard.

"The stated purpose of the National Labor Relations Act is to encourage collective bargaining. Yet in the more than 80 years since its passage, every amendment to the law has made it harder for workers to form unions.

"Today, union-busting consultants are paid tens of millions of dollars to deny workers a voice on the job. And once a union election is won, these same bad actors do everything in their power to undermine the collective bargaining process.

"Workers are forced to sit in meetings where the only item on the agenda is bashing the union. Pro-union workers are fired. Employers refuse to bargain in good faith. Some refuse to bargain at all. And far too often, the financial consequences for breaking federal law are virtually nonexistent.

"This must change. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act will change it."