The Honorable Bernie Sanders, Chair
The Honorable Bill Cassidy, Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
428 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Re: S. 567 Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act
Dear Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member Cassidy, and Members of the Committee:
The undersigned organizations strongly support S. 567, the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, as introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders (D–Vt.) and Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), and the companion legislation in the House of Representatives as introduced by Representative Robert C. “Bobby” Scott and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01).
The ability of working people to join unions and collectively bargain for fair pay and working conditions is a fundamental right. The freedom to join a union helps all working people support their communities and the ones they love because when unions are strong, they set wage standards for entire industries and occupations, they make wages more equal within occupations, and they help close racial and gender wage gaps.
For decades, however, that right has been eroding as employers exploit weaknesses in the current law to interfere with workers’ rights—and face no real consequences for doing so. The result has been stagnant wages, unsafe workplaces, and rising inequality, all of which has been exacerbated by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
The PRO Act is a crucial step towards restoring workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively by streamlining the process for forming a union, ensuring that new unions are able to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement, and holding employers accountable when they violate workers’ rights.
By bringing workers’ collective power to the bargaining table, unions are able to win better wages and benefits for all working people. On average, a worker covered by a union contract earns 10.2% more in wages than a peer with similar education, occupation, and experience in a nonunionized workplace in the same sector. This boost in wages is even higher for workers of color—unionized Black workers earn 13.1% more than their nonunionized peers and unionized Latinx workers earn 18.8% more than their nonunionized peers.1 There is a huge gap between the share of workers with union representation (11.3 percent) and the share of workers that would like to have a union and a voice on the job (48 percent)2. The PRO Act would take a major step forward in closing that gap.
The PRO Act protects the right to join a union by:
- Imposing stronger remedies when employers interfere with workers’ rights. Employers are charged with violating federal law in 41.5% of all NLRB union election campaigns.3 Under current law, there are no penalties for employers that illegally fire or retaliate against workers who are trying to form a union. The PRO Act would institute civil penalties for violations of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and would also require the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to go to court and get an injunction to immediately reinstate workers if the NLRB believes the employer has illegally retaliated against workers for union activity. Finally, the PRO Act would give workers the right to go to court on their own to seek relief, bringing labor law in line with other workplace laws that allow for a private right of action.
- Strengthening workers’ right to join a union and collectively bargain over working conditions. Though current federal law requires employers to bargain in good faith with the union chosen by their employees to reach a collective bargaining agreement, employers often drag out the bargaining process to avoid reaching an agreement. The PRO Act establishes a process for reaching a first agreement when workers organize, employing mediation and then, if necessary, binding arbitration, to enable the parties to reach a first agreement. The PRO Act would also allow employers and unions to agree upon a “fair share” clause requiring all workers who are covered by the collective bargaining agreement to contribute a fair share fee towards the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement, even in so called “right-to-work” states. Furthermore, the PRO Act will help workers gain a stronger voice in their communities by repealing the prohibition on secondary boycotts and prohibiting employers from permanently replacing strikers.
- Unrigging the rules that are tilted against workers. Too often, employers misclassify workers as independent contractors because only employees have the right to organize under the NLRA. Similarly, employers will misclassify workers as supervisors to deprive them of their NLRA rights. The PRO Act tightens the definitions of independent contractor and supervisor to crack down on misclassification and make sure that all eligible workers are able to unionize if they choose to do so. The PRO Act also makes clear that workers can have more than one employer, and that both employers need to engage in collective bargaining over the terms and conditions of employment that they control or influence. And in an effort to create transparency in labor-management relations, the PRO Act would require employers to post notices that inform workers of their NRLA rights and to disclose contracts with consultants hired to persuade workers on how to exercise their rights.
The time for the PRO Act is long overdue, and we cannot delay in working toward its passage. The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the importance of unions giving workers a collective voice in the workplace. During the crisis, unionized workers have been able to secure enhanced safety measures, additional premium pay, paid sick time, and a say in the terms of furloughs or work-share arrangements to save jobs. We call on Congress to enact this important piece of legislation as quickly as possible to ensure working people are paid fairly, treated with dignity, and have a voice on the job.
A Better Balance
American Economic Liberties Project
American Federation of Government Employees
American Federation of Teachers
American Postal Workers Union
American Public Health Association
Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO
Caring Across Generations
Center for Economic and Policy Research
Center for Law and Social Policy
Children’s Defense Fund
Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Community Change Action
Economic Policy Institute
Equal Rights Advocates
Feminist Majority Foundation
Good Jobs First
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers
Jobs to Move America
Jobs With Justice
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Center for Law and Economic Justice
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Education Association
National Employment Law Project
National Immigration Law Center
National Institute for Workers’ Rights
National Network to End Domestic Violence
National Organization for Women
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Urban League
National Women’s Law Center
Pride at Work
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Shriver Center on Poverty Law
Take on Wall Street
Unemployed Workers United
United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)
Voices for Progress
Worker Power Coalition
The Workers Circle
Regional, State, and Local Organizations
Colorado Fiscal Institute
Common Good Iowa
Florida Policy Institute
Keystone Research Center
Kentucky Center for Economic Policy
Maine Center for Economic Policy
Massachusetts Teachers Organization
New Jersey Policy Perspective
Northwest Workers’ Justice Project
Policy Matters Ohio
Public Justice Center
Speak Life Ministries
SPLC Action Fund
Women’s Law Project
Workers Defense Action Fund
Workplace Justice Project at Loyola Law Clinic
2. Thomas A. Kochan, Duanyi Yang, William T. Kimball, and Erin L. Kelly, “Worker Voice in America: Is There a Gap Between What Workers Expect and What They Experience?” ILR Review 72, no. 1 (January 2019): 3–38.
3. Celine McNicholas, Margaret Poydock, Julia Wolfe, Ben Zipperer, Gordon Lafer, and Lola Loustaunau, Unlawful: U.S. Employers Are Charged with Violating Federal Law in 41.5% of All Union Election Campaigns, Economic Policy Institute, December 2019.