A bipartisan group of legislators on Feb. 28 introduced a comprehensive proposal to protect workers’ right to come together and bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces.
The bill, dubbed the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2023 (H.R. 20), was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), ranking member on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Scott was joined by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, (R-Pennsylvania). The Senate companion bill was proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who serves as chair, Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
“Congress has an urgent responsibility to ensure that workers can join a union and negotiate for higher pay, better benefits, and safer workplaces,” said Scott.
“Passing the PRO Act is the most critical step we can take this Congress to achieve that goal,” he continued. “I urge my House and Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in advancing the most significant update for workers’ labor organizing rights in more than eight decades.”
“At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when too many workers are falling further and further behind, we need to make it easier for workers to exercise their constitutional right to form a union and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions,” said Sanders.
“We need to hold CEOs accountable for flagrantly violating labor laws, illegally firing pro-union workers, and closing down pro-union shops,” the Vermont senator continued. “If we are going to reverse the 40-year decline of the middle class, reduce the widening gap between the billionaire class and everyone else, and take on the unprecedented level of corporate greed in America, we have got to rebuild the trade union movement. That is what the PRO Act is all about and I am proud to be introducing this bill in the Senate.”
“The PRO Act is how we level the playing field,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in a statement. “It is how we stop the intimidation, the lies. This is how we let workers, not wealthy corporations, decide for themselves if they want the power of a union.”
Named after the late labor leader and longtime friend of the SIU, the Richard L. Trumka PRO Act, would protect the basic right to join union. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the bill, if passed into law, would:
Give workers more control
Under the PRO Act, workers and the National Labor Relations Board, not employers, control the timing of union elections and employers can’t force employees to attend anti-union meetings.
Impose real penalties when employers break the law
According to the proposed legislation, employers and corporate executives would be penalized for illegally retaliating against workers trying to organize, and workers would get monetary damages or other remedies if they are illegally fired or harmed; fired workers must also be reinstated while their cases are pending.
Create a roadmap to a first contract
Terms of the new bill state that employers and workers have a set process to follow to negotiate a first union contract, and if they can’t reach an agreement, they go to binding arbitration.
Strengthen the right of workers to strike
Under the PRO Act, employers are prohibited from permanently replacing workers when they strike, and workers are no longer banned from engaging in so-called “secondary” activity, such as boycotts, seeking leverage in negotiations.
Crack down on worker misclassification
Details of the new bill specify that workers can’t be wrongly deprived of their organizing and bargaining rights by being misclassified as supervisors or independent contractors.
The move to pass the PRO Act comes on the heels of a year that was characterized by an unprecedented spike in strike activity by organized labor and historic public support for unions. A recent Gallup poll showed that more than 70% of Americans approve of labor unions and many workers want to have them in their workplaces. Yet, overall union membership has waned in recent decades.
The decline is due in part to the decades- long, systematic attack on foundational labor laws that has created a hostile environment for workers seeking to organize. An EPI analysis found that employers were charged with violating federal law in 41.5% of union election campaigns, by firing, threatening, or otherwise retaliating against workers who dared to come together in their workplaces to bargain collectively. The penalties for violating current labor law are not sufficient to deter employers from infringing on workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The PRO Act is needed to restore the basic rights of workers to organize their workplaces and bargain collectively for better pay, benefits, and working conditions, advocates say.
The PRO Act passed the House in both 2020 and 2021 but never reached the floor for a vote in the Senate. In that chamber, the legislative filibuster requires at least 60 votes to pass most bills. Last year, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona), Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), and Senate Republicans refused to back the bill.