PRO Act Would Put Power Back in Workers’ Hands

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

Between 1935 and 1965, union membership rose precipitously in the United States. Wages increased in tandem with productivity, benefits improved, the middle class blossomed and income inequality dwindled.

Those good times are over, however. After 1965, the rate of unionization steadily fell from the high of about 30 percent to 10.5 percent now. Wages stagnated after 1970, even as productivity increased. Income inequality rose to Gilded Age rates.

This was no accident. It was a result of a calculated campaign launched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and financially fed by corporations and right wing billionaires. They secured appointment of conservative, anti-union judges who ruled against unions. They bankrolled right-wing political candidates who passed anti-union legislation. And they subsidized anti-union organizations that taught corporations how to skirt the law and twist workers’ arms to defeat union organization efforts at workplaces.

Now, however, Democrats in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have introduced legislation intended to reverse the union slide by restoring workers’ rights. 

The Protecting the Right to Work (PRO) Act, introduced on May 2, would make it easier for workers to form unions and would more effectively punish employers that violate the rights of workers trying to organize.

The proposed law would facilitate unionization, which Democrats believe would raise workers’ wages and reduce income inequality. Union workers earn about 13 percent more than nonunion workers and receive better benefits and pensions.

The law would prohibit corporations from permanently replacing striking workers. It would require mediation or arbitration to settle first labor agreements when recalcitrant corporations refuse to bargain in good faith. And it would override states’ anti-union laws that bankrupt labor organizations by prohibiting them from collecting fair share fees from workers who benefit from the labor agreement but refuse to join the union.

The proposed law also would institute meaningful financial penalties for employers that violate workers’ rights. The National Labor Relations Board would be able to fine employers each time they wrongly terminate a worker who is trying to organize a union. And those workers would have the right to seek immediate reinstatement while they await adjudication of their cases.

In addition, the law would enable workers to go directly to court to seek enforcement of their rights when they are wrongfully terminated or punished by an employer for trying to organize a union.

And the law would stop employers from interfering in union elections by forcing workers to attend corporate-sponsored anti-union meetings. If an employer violates this section, the National Labor Relations Board could order the company to begin bargaining with the union.

“In the face of increasingly aggressive employer attempts to prevent workers from forming unions, we should update worker protections to reinforce the rights of all workers to band together and fight for better pay and safe working conditions,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, sponsor of the PRO Act in the Senate. “We cannot address inequality in this country unless workers get more power in the workplace, and this bill would help them do that.”

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Posted In: Union Matters

Union Matters

An Invitation to Sunny Miami. What Could Be Bad?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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