The PRO Act represents an important step for every worker, both domestic and overseas. Given the importance of the United States on the global scale of politics, passing more pro-organized labor legislation could contribute to a further shift towards unions in the rest of the world. The ground is fertile, with so much labor unrest having occurred due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the right step is to pass legislation that will solidify the unions’ position in our society.
On March 9, U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement in support of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021 (PRO Act, HR 842). Biden cited the importance of unions in building a better environment for Americans. The statement reads: “…we need to summon a new wave of worker power to create an economy that works for everyone. We owe it not only to those who have put in a lifetime of work, but to the next generation of workers who have only known an America of rising inequality and shrinking opportunity. All of us deserve to enjoy America’s promise in full—and our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to deliver it.” Biden also said that unions help workers increase wages, improve the quality of jobs, preserve job security and protect against racial and other forms of discrimination.
The PRO Act has been introduced with the aim of “expanding various labor protections related to employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace.” The bill aims to increase the number of workers covered by fair labor standards, permit labor organizations to encourage their members to participate in strikes initiated by other unions and prohibit employers from targeting workers who participate in such actions.
In our current times, the PRO Act is instrumental in offering workers a better chance at the bargaining table. The current no-vote against forming a union at the Amazon center in Alabama was also fuelled by the unequal rules of the game in which organized labor is playing.
“The bill makes it an unfair labor practice to require or coerce employees to attend employer meetings designed to discourage union membership and prohibits employers from entering into agreements with employees under which employees waive the right to pursue a joint collective or class-action litigation.”
In the same statement, the President encouraged the House of Representatives to vote on the bill, which it passed with a vote of 225-206 (securing five Republican votes in the process). To finally get the bill approved, it must go past the Senate—which, according to Don Gonyea, national political correspondent at NPR, might prove difficult due to the filibuster.
Taking a step away from the battleground of the Senate, we must look at the union leaders and the support they have mobilized in getting these laws passed. The leaders of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations), SEIU (Service Employees Workers United) and Teamsters have all invoked the argument that unions are the fighting mechanisms of the workers, which allow them to get better wages, better working conditions and an overall increase in well-being for everyone. Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement on March 9, “all of us agree that a union card is the single best tool working people have in the fight to win a fair share of the value we create every day.” He reinforced his and his union’s support for President Biden, categorizing the President as a union guy in a sea of corporate politicians.
Biden’s commitment to union politics is a topic up for endless debate, but for now, one thing is certain: he has expressed his support for the PRO Act, pushing the discourse in a direction that gives a lot of momentum to unions. His actions are in response to the growing pressure for pro-union politics, coming from both left-leaning Democratic-Socialist politicians and the labor crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. If, prior to the pandemic, it was not obvious that the discrepancies between those that hold capital and those that hold nothing but their labor power are growing at alarming rates, now those facts are impossible to avoid. More than ever, support for unions is growing. A Gallup Poll from 2020 showed that 65 percent of Americans were in favor of the organized labor movement, while 50 percent expressed a desire to join a union.
According to a paper published by the Economic Policy Institute in 2003, unions contribute to an increase in wages of unionized workers by about 20 percent and help alleviate inequalities between highly-paid employees and lower-paid ones. Unions have a positive impact on non-unionized workers as well, setting a pay example that other employers face competitive pressure to follow. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25 percent unionized is paid five percent more than similar workers in less unionized industries.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, which, apart from legalizing labor relations, aimed to raise awareness about the importance of unions, encouraging workers to join. If the core goal of American labor legislation is to encourage union participation, then the PRO Act should pass. It will enable workers to organize without fear of retaliation and will stop the greedy practice of employers dragging workers into anti-union informational sessions.
The PRO Act will be only a step in the long fight that labor activists undertake when combating the Neoliberal Machine, which demonizes organized labor. More than ever, organized labor and unions have become subjects that draw the attention of many people. Being failed by state bureaucracy and by lack of security in economic downturns, organized labor acts as a solution in improving people’s lives. For this specific reason, the PRO Act should pass.
Radu Stochita is a member of the Class of 2022.