By DAVID A. COOK
Sometimes it feels like there is too much happening in the news to even try to keep up. These past eight months or so have felt that way for me, so perhaps that’s true for you. That’s probably why many of you reading this have not heard that the most aggressive pro-Labor reform bill in American history passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year, and is currently awaiting approval in the U.S. Senate. If it passes in the Senate, President Joe Biden has already committed to signing it.
Is that news to you? It wouldn’t be surprising. When Biden and Democrats took the White House and Congress back there was an early flurry of legislative activity that largely didn’t generate massive headlines. This was mostly due to the COVID pandemic dominating our news cycles.
THE PRO ACT
The PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize Act) is the most sweeping and positive legislation for Labor unions in modern history. The bill is large, but let’s talk about a few highlights.
- It makes so-called “right-to-work” illegal across the country and would wipe out RTW laws where they already exist. Now, here I have to pause and say that even if this is all that the bill did, it would be a tremendous victory. However, this is not all.
- It bans employers from holding mandatory meetings where they use intimidation and misinformation to keep employees from voting in favor of unions. It dramatically increases the penalties for employers that break the law during union elections — which they do 41 percent of the time according to the Economic Policy Institute — and would even hold business owners personally liable if their managers violate Labor laws.
- It prevents employers from removing employees from the bargaining unit by falsely claiming they are “management” which is a common tactic to shrink the number of voters in a union election.
- Would also radically increase the ability for workers in the so-called “gig economy” (Uber drivers, DoorDash delivery drivers, etc.) to organize and join unions, something that is nearly impossible for them now as the law often considers them “independent contractors” who are ineligible.
GREATEST LABOR REFORM BILL IN MODERN TIMES
There are numerous other provisions in the PRO Act, those are just some of the major highlights, but it’s safe to say that it represents the greatest Labor reform bill in modern times.
It’s precisely the shot in the arm that workers need to take back power in a country that has been abandoning them to their wealthy bosses for decades. It’s never been harder for workers who sincerely wish to organize, because the laws overwhelmingly favor businesses and business owners, and even when they are caught breaking the law, the punishments are essentially toothless!
The PRO Act passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, but it is likely to face stiff opposition in the U.S. Senate. Even if every Democrat supports the bill (at this moment there are two holdouts, both Senators from Arizona), they will need 10 Republicans to join them in order to overcome a filibuster, which anti-worker senators in the Republican Party would almost certainly stage.
LABOR’S NEW STANDARD FOR POLITICIANS
While this massive legislation faces long odds to find the desk of the president, we should make note of a few things.
First, the PRO Act is, within the Labor community, the new standard for politicians in either party. Let us be perfectly clear: this is the agenda of the Labor Movement, and if you wish to be allies of the Labor Movement and of workers then this is the new standard. You must support the PRO Act in order to be a true friend to the Labor Movement. Period.
Second, while the PRO Act may not pass in its current form, there is already discussion about moving some provisions through the reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority in the Senate. So, there is hope for some positive reforms to actually become law.
Third, I can’t think of better evidence to demonstrate that elections matter. None of this would be remotely on the table if Donald Trump was still in the White House, or if Republicans of today controlled Congress. While we have some friends in the GOP, the vast majority of Republican politicians are on the side of businesses, not workers. It’s unfortunate, but it is the reality of politics today.
You simply cannot call yourself an ally of Labor, a good union member, or a strong supporter of workers if you cannot bring yourself to vote in favor of elected officials who will pursue reforms like the PRO Act now, and in the future. Like the old picket line song asks: “Whose side are you on?”
NO, REALLY, ELECTIONS MATTER
While I’m on the subject of elections, reforms and improving the lives of workers, let me remind you that Local 655 is actively recruiting our partners to seek local office. Remember something: most of the decisions that impact your daily life are not made in Washington, D.C., and they aren’t necessarily even made in Jefferson City. Many of those decisions are made right in your own backyard.
I’m sure we’ve all heard stories about school boards having lengthy and sometimes contentious meetings on back-to-school policies as they relate to COVID. Many of you are probably aware of St. Louis County’s numerous public hearings about mask mandates, and many of you likely live in communities where decisions related to the pandemic are being made on your local city council.
It’s not just decisions like those: zoning laws that determine what businesses can open in your neighborhood and what types of housing can be constructed in your city are being written in small meetings that often go unnoticed by local constituents.
I say all of this for one simple reason: many of these decision making positions are non-partisan, but have a deep impact on the community you live in. Many of these positions don’t even require an election, but are actually appointed positions!
INTERESTED IN SEEKING OFFICE? WE’LL HELP
If you are a Local 655 partner and you want to seek out a role like this in your community, your union will stand by you. We will help you get the tools you need to seek office, and we will guide you through the process so you can affect positive change right in your own neighborhood. If this sounds like something that interests you, please contact Union Representative Mike Frame at 636-736-2765.