Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
March 05, 2021
As the economy continues on the path of a K-shaped recovery, Congress should be pursuing policies that will elevate businesses and workers on the bottom part of that K. Instead, Democrats are pushing legislation designed to help their friends in organized labor and cause more damage. This legislation is called The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, but there is nothing positive about it.
To put it succinctly, the PRO Act represents a radical rewrite of American labor law that would threaten worker privacy, force workers to pay union dues or lose their jobs, and undermine free speech rights. The bill first surfaced in 2019, although it failed to advance beyond House passage. Now that Democrats have unified control, the prospect of the PRO Act becoming law has become more realistic.
The rationale for organized labor’s push for this legislation is fairly simple. Union membership has been steadily declining since the 1950s, and rather than attract new members by convincing people to join, labor leaders want Congress to stack the deck in their favor by disrupting the careful balance in U.S. labor law. The PRO Act would do so in many ways.
At the top of the list, the PRO Act would effectively overturn right-to-work laws that have been democratically passed in 27 states. Under right-to-work laws, workers in unionized businesses can opt out of paying unwanted union dues. Under the PRO Act, a worker who makes that choice is likely to be fired.
The bill also would do an end-run around the current system of private ballot union representation elections. Instead, it would encourage “card check” voting where union organizers would approach individual workers and demand that they publicly sign a card in favor of the union. Even worse, when unions “win” such a rigged process, the federal government is empowered to impose a collective bargaining contract on an employer. Should that occur, workers would be denied the opportunity to approve the agreement, even though it impacts their wages and working conditions. Incredibly, the employees who would have to live with that contract would get no vote on it. And if you don’t want to pay union dues to support an unwanted contract, well, see the paragraph above about keeping your job.
Employers also would be stripped of fundamental legal rights under the PRO Act, losing their standing in cases before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Yet, if they fail to follow an NLRB decision they could also be fined—up to $100,000 in some cases—and their officers held personally liable for alleged violations. And worker privacy would also come under threat, as the PRO Act would put into legislation a requirement that employers give unions personal information about their workers, such as home addresses and phone numbers, cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, shift locations, and work schedules..
As for those working as independent contractors, the PRO Act would turn most of them into employees by adopting California’s disastrous new law on worker classification. Independent contractors would lose flexible work arrangements and see fewer earning opportunities. They would, however, suddenly be eligible for union card check campaigns and subsequent payment of union dues.
Put simply, the PRO Act would be bad for workers, employers, and the economy. It’s a union wish-list, a grab bag of harmful policies that would completely undermine today’s balance in labor law. Members of Congress who support this bill will certainly have a lot to answer for if it should ever become law.