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9 ways Democrats' new employment bill would help American workers

The White House says it strongly supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act.

By Donna Provencher - March 09, 2021
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Pro-union demonstrators

The White House put out a statement Monday in support of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a bill under debate in the House of Representatives this week that would strengthen unions, limit employer interference with union activity, and protect the rights of American workers.

H.R. 842 was introduced by Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) and is co-sponsored by 209 House Democrats and three House Republicans.

In the statement, the Office of Management and Budget said, “The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R. 842, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021, which would strengthen the Federal laws that protect workers’ right to organize a union and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.”

“America was not built by Wall Street,” the statement continues. “It was built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class. Unions put power in the hands of workers. They give workers a stronger voice to increase wages, improve the quality of jobs and protect job security, protect against racial and all other forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, and protect workers’ health, safety, and benefits in the workplace. Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union.”

Worker rights have drawn national attention the past few weeks as a union drive organized by Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, unfolds, and as the corporate giant bombards employees with anti-union messaging. Last week, President Joe Biden lent his support to the chorus of voices backing employee efforts to organize.

Experts say the PRO Act will do much to benefit American workers like these and bolster the strength of American unions.

“Workers in unions earn better wages and benefits, enjoy safe work conditions, and have a voice to speak out against unfair conditions,” Karla Walter, senior director for work force policy at the Center for American Progress, told the American Independent Foundation.

She added that unionization rates have been falling, while nonunion corporations “fail to provide essential workers protective equipment, paid sick leave, and wages that compensate them for their risks.”

Here are just a few ways that the new legislation would help American workers.

1) Employers can’t endlessly stall union election processes.

Employers often stall or postpone union elections by engaging in litigation with the National Labor Relations Board, which governs election procedures.

An Economic Policy Institute report found that employers try to block the formation of unions 40% of the time. Employers also regularly stall initial bargaining agreements during union formation.

The PRO Act would make it so the NLRB and union organizers decide their own protocols for the election — without the involvement of the employer.

“Like President Biden said, people should have the freedom to form a union if they choose without intimidation and fearmongering from the boss, who’s getting rich at their expense,” Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told the American Independent Foundation.

2) Employers can’t coerce workers into signing away their rights.

In new-hire paperwork, employers under current law can compel workers to waive their right to file collective or class-action lawsuits against the employer as a prerequisite of employment. In its ruling in Epic Sys. Corps v. Lewis, the Supreme Court in 2018 upheld the legality of making employees sign these so-called mandatory arbitration clauses.

With the PRO Act passed into law, such waivers would be prohibited.

3) Employers can’t make you attend union-bashing meetings.

Currently, employers can force employees to attend so-called captive audience meetings that promote anti-union messaging.

Lynn Rhinehart, a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, told the American Independent Foundation, “The law, as it stands now, gives employers too much power to interfere with union organizing by doing things like holding mandatory anti-union meetings, firing union activists with no penalties or consequences, and stalling union elections.”

The PRO Act would forbid employers from holding such meetings.

4) Employers have to disclose whether they hire union-busters.

A union-buster is an anti-union consultant hired by a company to discourage workers from joining unions. Donald Trump’s administration repealed an Obama-era regulation that had forced employers to disclose payments made to union-busters.

The PRO Act would reinstate this rule.

5) Employers can’t misclassify workers to deny them employee rights.

Employers have long misclassified employees as “independent contractors” to avoid providing them with employee benefits and protections.

Under the PRO Act, it would be considered an NLRA violation to incorrectly classify employees, and employers must submit to a more rigorous test to determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.

6) Employers face accountability for violating workers’ rights.

Rhinehart told the American Independent Foundation that the PRO Act would reduce employer interference with the activities of unions and impose “real penalties when employers illegally fire union activists or interfere with workers’ rights.” Currently, employers who violate the rights of workers under the National Labor Relations Act aren’t held accountable with civil penalties.

Under the PRO Act, they can face penalties of up to $50,000 for a first-time violation, the National Law Review reports. Individual corporate leaders would also be subject to penalties for anti-worker actions like firing union supporters.

7) Companies can’t weaken union power by prohibiting ‘fair share’ fees.

Twenty-seven states are classified as “right-to-work” states. In such states, private-sector workers cannot be required to join a union in order to obtain employment at a given workplace, nor can they be required to pay “fair share” fees; public-sector workers can join unions without paying fees at all.

Since unions in right-to-work states afford protection to all employees — even those who opt out of joining the union — they use fair share fees collected from nonmembers to support union activities. Right-to-work laws bar unions from charging such fees.

In states without right-to-work laws, a worker who opts not to join the union can still be required to pay fair share fees.

Without fair share fees, unions often lose efficacy and bargaining power.

If the PRO Act passes, every state would be required to allow unions in the private sector to collect fair share fees upon collective agreement with the employer.

8) Employers can’t prevent workers from striking or punish them for it.

Under current law, employers are able to replace striking employees permanently without repercussion, as well as to use measures like locking employees out to keep them from working during labor disputes.

The PRO Act specifically prohibits employers from replacing striking employees and using methods like lockouts.

9) Employers can’t make workers wait to receive back pay or be reinstated after being illegally fired.

While union employees are entitled to strike, employers often illegally punish them with termination. The system for determining whether they should be reinstated or receive back pay is often convoluted and inefficient.

If the PRO Act is passed, in cases of widespread illegal activity on the part of an employer, the National Labor Relations Board would be required to seek a court injunction against the employer immediately following a quick “preliminary” examination, without waiting for a full investigation of the case to be completed first.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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