The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act is a generational opportunity and the cornerstone of the AFL-CIO’s Workers First Agenda. It motivated working people this past election cycle to mobilize for a pro-worker trifecta in the U.S. House, Senate and White House. And working people won a mandate. The PRO Act was introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (Va.), and it is landmark worker empowerment, civil rights and economic stimulus legislation, and an essential part of any plan to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic and recession.
Here are 13 ways that the PRO Act helps working people:
1. Strengthens employees' bargaining rights: The PRO Act adopts new procedures to make sure unions can reach a first contract. To achieve this, it requires: collective bargaining to begin within 10 days of a certified union’s request to do so; mediation if no contract is reached within 90 days; and mandatory arbitration of a two-year contract if no contract is reached through mediation.
2. Holds corporations accountable: By strengthening the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and allowing it to penalize employers who retaliate against working people in support of the union or collective bargaining. The problem is that our basic labor law, which is supposed to protect the rights of workers to form a union and bargain collectively, is broken. In recent decades, employers have been able to violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) with impunity. An entire union-busting industry now works nonstop to block working people from exercising our rights. Today, in more than 40% of all union organizing elections, employers are charged with breaking the law. They lie. They threaten and coerce. They routinely fire union supporters. Workers are forced to attend mandatory meetings with one item on the agenda: union-bashing. These messages of fear and intimidation come from the very people who control our paychecks, how much time we can spend with our families and whether we will have a job tomorrow. And the penalties for employers that engage in this illegal behavior are inconsequential. The PRO Act is the answer because it would fix many of these problems.
3. Increases wages: When union membership is greater, our wages are better. Between 1948 and 1973, when New Deal era laws expanded and enforced collective bargaining, hourly wages rose by more than 90%. But over the next 40 years—from 1973 to 2013—hourly wages rose by just over 9% while productivity increased 74%. As it is, workers are not getting paid a fair share of what we produce. Another expansion of collective bargaining would lead to a similar increase in wages.
4. Increases workplace safety: The COVID-19 pandemic has shown once again that belonging to a union can literally be the difference between life and death on the job, especially for workers of color and women who are disproportionately essential workers and have been more likely to lose life, health and employment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasing the power of working people to collectively bargain increases wages and would help close wage gaps that have persisted for decades.
5. Addresses inequality: The latest research shows that the rapid growth of unions in the 20th century dramatically reduced inequality by extending the union advantage to more workers, particularly lower-income workers and Black workers, while at the same time raising standards for nonunion workers across entire industries. Growing today’s labor movement is the only policy that has the scale necessary to take us off our current trajectory of ever-growing inequality. Without it, broadly shared prosperity that extends to most working people has virtually no chance.
6. Expands civil rights: The PRO Act is more than labor law reform, it’s civil rights legislation. A union contract is the single best tool we have to close racial and gender wage gaps, and to ensure dignity and due process for workers, regardless of where we were born, who we are or what industry we work in. Removing barriers to organizing and bargaining is important for all workers, especially those who have been marginalized. Expanding collective bargaining will increase protections for women, people of color, immigrants and the LGBTQ community in areas where our laws are still falling short. We need the PRO Act to promote racial justice and eradicate all kinds of discrimination. More than 65% of union members are either women or people of color, and Black workers are the most likely of any demographic group to be union members (13.5%). The decline of unionization has played a significant role in the expansion of the racial wage gap over the past four decades, and an increase in unionization would help reverse this trend.
7. Protects collective action and removes barriers to worker voice: The PRO Act ensures that employers cannot: fire and permanently replace workers who are on strike; lock out, suspend or withhold work from employees to stop them from striking; tell employees that they are independent contractors when they are actually employees; force employees to attend anti-union messaging meetings; change work conditions, pay or benefits while negotiating a union contract; force employees to waive their right to collective and class legal action; or prohibit employees from using work computers for collective action. It also empowers employees to stand in solidarity with other workers through efforts like picketing, striking or boycotting; protects strikes of any duration, scope or frequency; requires employers to notify each new employee of their rights under the NLRA and to post those rights in the workplace; and allows unions to collect fees to cover the expenses of collective bargaining, regardless of state “right to work” laws.
8. Modernizes the union election and enforcement processes: The PRO Act requires employers to provide contact information for all relevant employees before the union elections take place and allows union elections to take place by mail, electronically, or at a convenient location; keeps employers from intervening in administrative hearings on union representation; ensures workers can form commonsense bargaining units; requires the NLRB to order the employer to bargain if the union wins the election, or if the employer interferes with the election and a majority of employees have already designated the union as their desired bargaining representative; pauses union elections when unfair labor practice charges are filed; requires the NLRB to seek a U.S. District Court injunction when employers may have unlawfully fired workers or otherwise interfered with their rights under the NLRA; and makes NLRB orders self-enforcing and appealable within 30 days. It also ensures new elections do not take place if: the union and employer are still bargaining; the employer voluntarily recognized the union; the union and successor employer are just starting to bargain; the time window for filing a petition has closed.
9. Ensures most workers are included under NLRA protections: The PRO Act amends the definition of employer so that entities that control material aspects of employees’ work are actually at the bargaining table. It also adopts a clear test to determine employee status so that workers are not misclassified as independent contractors and therefore unable to organize. It narrows the definition of supervisor so that employees who make routine, commonsense workplace decisions are not excluded from their unions. And it guarantees that workers are eligible for recovery regardless of immigration status.
10. Repeals "right to work" laws: The PRO Act would repeal right to work laws, which are divisive and racist laws created during the Jim Crow era that lead to lower wages, fewer benefits and more dangerous workplaces.
11. Helps fix the economy: The result of growing inequality and a shrinking middle class is an economy that does not work because the vast majority of people lack the incomes or the economic security to consume or invest. Economists are increasingly recognizing that inequality stunts economic growth. We need to grow the labor movement to rebalance the economy, which will be good for growth.
12. Helps fix our democracy: Another consequence of declining worker power and economic failure is that more and more people lose confidence in the system as a whole. To restore that confidence and strengthen our democracy, we need to make the economy work for working people.
13. Gives working people a real say in our future: The PRO Act would reduce inequality, ensuring that workers share in the benefits of future economic growth and the rising productivity that will be fueled by technology, and give workers a say in how technology is deployed in the workplace. The PRO Act also includes specific provisions to correct trends that may be troubling in the future such as employers washing their hands of responsibility toward the workers who make them profitable.
Call your senators today at 866-832-1560 and urge them to pass the PRO Act.