Weak labor laws, employers’ ability to break what laws there are with impunity, and anti-worker courts and labor boards have made it all but impossible for American workers to organize strong unions. As members of recently-organized UE shops know, it takes a heroic effort to withstand the barrage of company propaganda, captive audience meetings, one-on-one sessions and other techniques that bosses, advised by a whole industry of professional union-busters, use to convince, bully or bribe their workers into staying non-union (and exploited).
Two new bills in Congress would go a long way to redressing this unequal power balance between workers and bosses.
The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, introduced in May by Representative Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), would streamline union elections, ban captive audience meetings, increase penalties on employers for breaking the law, and make it harder for employers to delay union recognition through legal challenges. It would remove employers as a “party” to union representation elections — returning union elections to their original purpose. Before the 1947 Taft-Hartley law, union representation elections were workers collectively deciding for or against representation, rather than an election between the boss and the union.
The PRO Act would also make it easier for workers to engage in collective action and solidarity — the only weapon we have against the employers’ deep pockets. The Act would prohibit employers from permanently replacing workers during an economic strike and and remove all limitations on secondary boycotts (a secondary boycott is an act of solidarity with other workers, as when workers in one plant refuse to handle materials produced by scab labor in another plant).
The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, introduced in late June by a group of Democrats including Scott and newly-elected Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa), would set minimum standards for collective bargaining rights for public sector workers nationwide, ensuring that states such as North Carolina create a legal framework for exercising those rights and restoring those rights in states such as Iowa where they have been curtailed.
Finkenauer cited Iowa’s recent roll-back of collective bargaining rights, which has affected UE Locals 893 and 896, saying “In 2017, Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature went after our working families and gutted the collective bargaining rights of our state employees. We’ve seen safety compromised, major staffing cuts, and burdensome recertification requirements rigged against working people… I’m proud to sponsor this legislation to make sure that this never happens again.”
These bills show a new willingness by some members of Congress to stand up for working people. However, they will face the same opposition from Republicans and corporate Democrats that killed labor law reform under Presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter — so union members need to get busy holding their representatives’ feet to the fire.
Call your Congressperson today at (202) 224-3121, ask them what they’ve done lately to support workers’ right to organize, and tell them to co-sponsor and push for hearings on these bills:
- The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (H.R. 2474)
- The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act (H.R. 3463 and S. 1970)
- The Economic Policy Institute has published helpful descriptions and analysis of both the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act
- Read the full text on congress.gov: H.R. 2474 (PRO Act) and H.R. 3463 (Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act)