PRO Act: Time is Now
You may be aware of polling from the past couple of years that reflects a very favorable view of unions in the United States. Around 65 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, which is the highest percentage in almost 20 years.
I didn’t know until recently that those same surveys indicate almost half of non-union/unrepresented workers also say they would vote for a union if given the chance. That’s a huge increase compared to when a similar poll was conducted many years ago.
Our movement, and indeed our country, have a chance to turn these numbers into something positive for America’s working families, specifically by enacting the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. That legislation has been passed by the House, and President Biden enthusiastically backs it, including during his recent address to Congress.
If the PRO Act were law, I firmly believe that the recent union election in Alabama, involving workers at an Amazon warehouse, would’ve turned out differently. By the way, some of the reporting that followed the vote indicated, more or less, that it was a “resounding” defeat for the union. I don’t believe that for a second. Those workers endured months of illegal activities by the employer (as charged by the union, in a case that’s under review). And it wasn’t just any employer, but one with virtually unlimited resources that were used to bully, intimidate and brainwash. All of it happened in the deep south, and yet more than 700 people stood up and voted to join a union. To me, that’s something to build on. Let us not forget, it took the UAW several tries to organize Ford, and it took the SIU more than once to organize Cities Service back in the 1950s.
The campaign in Alabama underscored a point that we in the labor movement have made for a long time. If so many workers say they’re interested in union membership, why don’t they have it? The truth is that our current labor law, which is supposed to not only protect but in fact promote the right of workers in the private sector to organize, in practice makes it an uphill climb. They face too many hurdles while employers can and often do get away with illegal interference, without consequence.
The PRO Act repairs many of the biggest shortcomings with current law. Enacting the legislation would signal a major step forward when it comes to restoring workers’ ability to organize and negotiate for better wages, benefits and workplace safety and fairness.
For example, I recently read a fact sheet that said in one out of every five union organizing campaigns, employers fire pro-union workers, because they figure it will scare other workers and harm the campaign. This is flat-out illegal under the National Labor Relations Act, but employers do it anyway, because the penalties usually are minimal or non-existent. Another example: In nearly half of all such campaigns, employers ultimately are charged with breaking the law in one form or another. The PRO Act offers several remedies.
This is a lesser-known problem outside the labor movement, but it’s common for employers to challenge the makeup of the bargaining unit, which Amazon did. The bill addresses employer stalling tactics and clearly spells out that the decision about the proper bargaining unit should be made by workers and the NLRB, not rigged by employers.
Far less surprising is that employers often hire third-party, anti-union consultants to push against unionization. This happens in three-quarters of organizing campaigns, and it’s not cheap. Employers in recent years have spent an average of $340 million per year on anti-union consultants, who often stay hidden from the workers (even while pushing their lies). That’s a lot more money than it would cost to give workers the wage and benefit increases they seek.
The PRO Act requires timely disclosure of union-busting activities and closes the loophole through which employers and consultants have avoided reporting.
Finally, even when workers vote for a union and the results are certified, it’s not uncommon for employers to stall the collective bargaining process. More than half of all workers who vote to form a union still are without a contract a year later.
Once again, the PRO Act solution has a solution – in this case, establishing a mediation and, if necessary, arbitration process that keeps employers from dragging their feet.
Getting the PRO Act passed in the Senate is a challenge, but it’s doable. Our country will be much better off when it becomes law.