Pro-Union Bill Stirs Debate in House Panel Hearing

House subcommittee members and four witnesses discussed the PRO Act and subsequent Republican bills that would counter it.

Members of Congress and a panel of witnesses on May 22 debated a proposed law aimed at accelerating the growth of unions and strengthening organized labor.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act took center stage at a hearing of the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions in Washington. The bill was first introduced in 2021 but garnered increased attention more recently after President Joe Biden marched with striking members of the United Auto Workers.

“The most partisan Big Labor president since FDR,” subcommittee Chairman Bob Good (R-Va.) said of President Biden in his opening remarks, “and the nation is worse off because of it.”

According to the legislation as it’s written and testimony submitted during Wednesday’s hearing, the PRO Act prevents employers from holding mandatory “captive audience” meetings where workers are required to listen to management’s arguments against unionization. It authorizes the National Labor Relations Board to fine employers up to $50,000 per cited labor law violation and compensate union members it deems are fired unfairly.

The act would also eliminate independent contractor status in many situations, expanding the definition of employment types that would be eligible for unionization to include gig economy workers such drivers for Uber or food delivery services. It would decriminalize “secondary strikes,” where a union takes action against its employer in support of another union at a different location, presuming the issue of content is related.

The bill also calls for the allowance of electronic or mail-in ballots for unionization votes but also weakens existing right-to-work laws in the majority of U.S. states by allowing unions to require dues from nonunion employees.

Lawmaker Comments

Democrats on the subcommittee noted that union organization is currently on the rise across the country and that the PRO Act gives unions the strongest legal voice possible at a time when corporate CEOs “make 400 times more than the average worker.”

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“Unfortunately, today, right-wing billionaires just can’t get enough,” said Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif). “Unions create workplace democracies.”

Subcommittee Republicans said the PRO Act does not preserve the traditional method of secret ballot voting with union “card checks,” meaning employees will lose their right to keep voting anonymously and instead would be subjected to coercion and intimidation tactics by pro-union employees or even third-party organized labor organizations that obtain their contact information and lobby at workplaces.

“The American people just want choice and not to be deceived,” said Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.).

Republicans on the subcommittee have introduced legislation to counter the PRO Act.

The Employee Rights Act would prevent mandatory union dues for nonunion employees. The Workers Choice Act would protect workers from union coercion or intimidation and allow them to negotiate with their employers independently. The Start Applying Labor Transparency (SALT) Act would require information about labor organizations and third-party organizers to be made available to the workers they are lobbying while also restricting their access to workplaces and employee information.

Witness Statements

Four witnesses were called to testify, and each drew on their knowledge of organized labor or experiences with unionization efforts.

Michael Alcorn, a crew member at Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Massachusetts, said he was open to the idea of unionization when organized labor efforts began at his workplace in 2022. Still, the experience was “not positive or unifying,” he said.

Mr. Alcorn didn’t agree with co-workers’ efforts to paint Trader Joe’s as a bad company and found the organizers deceptive, dismissive, and threatening, he said. When he asked a question that organizers disagreed with at the first meeting, co-workers asked security guards to prevent him from attending the second meeting.

“Anyone voicing concerns was essentially excommunicated,” said Mr. Alcorn, adding that he is working to get the union vote decertified. “All of the intimidation and pressure has been a lot for us to take.”

Lynn Rhinehart, a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, said current American support for unions is at its highest in decades. There is ample proof that unionized employees receive better pay and benefits than their nonunion counterparts, let alone assurances for safer workplaces and higher morale, she said.

Moreover, she added that union activities create industry standards that allow all workers in various industries to benefit from increasing hourly wages.

“Everybody benefits,” she said.

Ms. Rhinehart said the PRO Act is needed because existing labor relation laws don’t penalize companies that illegally intimidate labor organizers or fire pro-union workers. The proposed Worker’s Choice Act, she added, undermines the collective bargaining process by creating “a chaotic situation.”

Stephen Delie, director of labor policy at Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and Bill Messenger, vice president and legal director for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, spoke in favor of Republican right-to-work bills that they say preserve freedom of choice.

“If you don’t want to be part of a union, OK,” Mr. Delie said in support of the Worker’s Choice Bill. “And they can try to negotiate for themselves.”

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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