During the White House Labor Day observance, both President Biden and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler emphasized the importance of passing legislation that would boost workers’ rights. Biden reiterated his full support for the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, while Shuler explained why the bill remains organized labor’s top legislative priority.
The bill already passed in the House of Representatives but faces challenges in the Senate, mainly because of a likely filibuster.
It has been several months since I wrote about the PRO Act. For those who missed the earlier communication or who are interested in a refresher, I’ll start by pointing out that nearly half of all nonunion workers (more than 60 million people) would join a union today if given the chance, according to non-partisan polling. Public approval of unions, at 65 percent, has reached one of its highest marks in decades.
Union members can bargain for higher wages and are much more likely to have health care and a pension. The union advantage is even greater for people of color, women, immigrants, and others who have confronted workplace discrimination. A union contract is a potent weapon because it establishes fair and transparent systems for hiring and firing, wages and more.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 was a staple of the New Deal. The NLRA led to a groundswell of organizing that built the greatest middle class in history.
Immediately after World War II, though, some corporations and their anti-worker political allies started conspiring to render the law toothless. They got pro-business congresses in 1947 and 1959 to weaken the law. In recent decades, employers have violated the NLRA with impunity, routinely denying workers their basic right to join with co-workers for fairness on the job.
Things have gotten so bad, there is an entire union-busting industry that basically works nonstop to block workers from exercising those rights. And, according to the AFL-CIO, in nearly half of all union organizing drives, employers break the law. They lie, threaten, and routinely fire union supporters. Workers are forced to attend mandatory meetings focused on union-bashing. Any fines for this illegal behavior are often inconsequential.
This explains how we have reached the point where more than 60 million people would vote to join a union, but only one in 10 workers actually has one. Not coincidentally, as the collective strength of workers to negotiate for better pay and benefits has eroded, the gap between rich and poor has reached levels unseen since the Great Depression. The fall of union density has been a direct cause of rising inequality over the past four decades.
Passing the PRO Act will update the NLRA and give workers a fair opportunity to join or form a union. Once workers vote to form a union, the PRO Act will require the National Labor Relations Board to set a time limit for the employer to commence bargaining a first contract. (Too often, when workers choose to form a union, employers stall the bargaining process to avoid reaching an agreement.)
The PRO act includes many other benefits for workers and their families – and their employers. Workers who have a voice on the job are the best kind.
Significantly, the PRO Act will finally end so-called “right to work” (for less) laws once and for all. These laws have been promoted by a network of billionaires and special interest groups in an effort to divide working people and give more power to corporations at the expense of workers. They have had the effect of lowering wages and eroding pensions and health care coverage in states where they have been adopted.
We’ve got a great opportunity to help enact the PRO Act. The SIU will continue pushing to make it reality by getting it through the Senate and onto President Biden’s desk for signature.