PRO Act Would Rebuild Labor Movement

Biden, Democrats Breathe New Life into Legislation to Restore Workers’ Rights

A new president and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress have given new life to a bill that would restore union rights and level the playing field for workers more than any time since the New Deal reforms that followed the Great Depression.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would mean better wages, benefits and working conditions for all workers as many more Americans would have a fair shot at joining a union. The bill would remove unnecessary barriers to joining unions and would establish meaningful penalties against employers who illegally try to bully and intimidate workers into halting unionization efforts.

The U.S. House passed the legislation in February in a bipartisan vote. It faces a tougher battle in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans continue to employ the filibuster to thwart much of the majority’s pro-worker agenda. 

Unnecessary Delays

One employer that used a host of bullying and obstruction tactics in recent years was Kumho Tire in Macon, Ga. Though the workers were eventually successful in joining the USW, their efforts were met with a vicious union-busting campaign and years of delays. The company’s behavior included repeated threats to workers, unwarranted dismissals, illegal interrogations and creating the impression of surveillance.

“For too long, corporations and their political cronies have been chipping away at workers’ rights, making it harder for them to band together,” said International President Tom Conway. “The PRO Act is a much-needed corrective to this assault on workers’ power. It will pave the way for American workers to better advocate for themselves and their families.”

The legislation also would set realistic deadlines for companies and union members to bargain first contracts following successful organizing drives. Under current rules, companies often employ high-priced union-busting lawyers to drag the process out for years in an attempt to frustrate workers and stymie their efforts, even in cases where large majorities voted for representation.

Halting Union-Busting

In many cases, workers who want a union don’t even get to the point where they begin to negotiate, because for decades labor laws have been written to favor union-busting employers rather than workers.

When Duane Forbes and his co-workers tried to form a union at Orchid Orthopedic Solutions in Bridgeport, Mich., the company hired five union-busters to harass workers. They badgered employees regularly on the shop floor, issuing veiled threats that the medical device factory would close or cut off workers’ health care if they voted to join the union. The vote eventually fell short.

“Fear was their main tactic. Fear is the hardest thing to overcome,” Forbes said. “There was nowhere to go. You couldn’t just go to work and do your job anymore.”

Under current labor law, union-busting employers engage in such behavior regularly with little to no consequences. The PRO Act would change that and usher in a new era of union organizing not seen in decades.

Workers Want Unions

Polls show that more than 60 percent of U.S. workers would join a union if given the choice. Yet, unions in 2020 only represented 10.8 percent of the American work force, a number that has fallen by roughly half over the past 40 years.

President Joe Biden, both on the campaign trail and now in the Oval Office, has promised to reverse that trend and restore the voice of workers.

“The middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class,” Biden said in March. Unions, he said, “increase wages, improve the quality of jobs and protect job security, protect against racial and all other forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, and protect workers’ health, safety, and benefits in the workplace.”

“I urge Congress to send the PRO Act to my desk,” he said.

The new law, the president said, would usher in an era of prosperity for working families like the nation saw in the decades that followed the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.

Perhaps even more importantly, said Conway, the PRO Act will restore the voices of American workers so they can be equal partners in the decisions that affect their lives and communities.

“The opportunity to organize and bargain collectively is one of our most fundamental rights as workers,” Conway said. “If we truly want to rebuild our nation’s middle class and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to realize the American dream, we must enact pro-worker legislation, starting with the PRO Act.”

Call Your Senators

The Rapid Response team is asking USW members across the country to contact their U.S. senators and urge them to vote YES for the PRO Act to restore workers’ rights.

Please call your senators at: 877-607-0785. (Remember, you have two senators, so be sure to make two calls!)

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-2446

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222