Capitol Hill Weekly Roundup: PRO Act Reintroduction Produces Divisive Reactions
The PRO Act has re-emerged as a proposed law on Capitol Hill, and there are wide-ranging opinions among Democrats, Republicans, companies, unions, and trade organizations on its merits.
Created to give unions and employers the ability to override state-level right-to-work laws, the PRO Act of 2023 was introduced in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate on Feb. 28.
If passed and signed into law in its current form, the legislation would also strengthen strike protections, prevent employers from conducting “captive audience” meetings where they inform employees about unions, and ban companies from classifying workers as independent contractors.
The PRO Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020 and 2021, but it never reached the Senate floor for a vote.
Officially called the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2023, or H.R. 20, the proposed legislation is “a comprehensive proposal to protect workers’ right to come together and bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces,” according to a joint statement from House and Senate members who are sponsors.
Trumka, who died in 2021, was president of the United Mine Workers from 1982 to 1995 and secretary-general of the AFL–CIO from 1995 to 2009.
Committee on Education and the Workforce Ranking Member Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D – Va.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R – Pa.) introduced the House version.
Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Chair Bernie Sanders (I – Vt.) sponsored the Senate companion bill.
From 1979 to 2020, annual wages for the bottom 90 percent of households increased just 26 percent, while average incomes for the wealthiest 1 percent increased by more than 160 percent, the statement explained.
A 2022 Gallup poll showed that 71 percent of Americans approve of labor unions but union membership declined to a new low of 10.1 percent in 2022, the statement continued.
“Unions are essential for building a strong middle class and improving the lives of workers and families. Regrettably, for too long, workers have suffered from anti-union attacks and toothless labor laws that undermined their right to form a union,” Scott said in the statement.
“As a historic number of Americans put their support behind labor unions, Congress has an urgent responsibility to ensure that workers can join a union and negotiate for higher pay, better benefits, and safer workplaces,” Scott added. “Passing the PRO Act is the most critical step we can take this Congress to achieve that goal.”
Fitzpatrick was the only Republican to sponsor the bill.
“The PRO Act will protect American workers and ensure that employers are held to fair standards. This landmark legislation will promote tremendous progress for workers’ empowerment and the economy,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m proud to support this legislation that bolsters American workers’ right to organize.”
Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) called the PRO Act “a radical wish list of union boss priorities which undermines the rights of workers.”
“To my Democrat colleagues and their union allies, I have one simple message: The era of big labor in the committee is over, and putting the demands of union bosses above the interests of America’s workers and job creators will stop,” Foxx said in a statement.
American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) President & CEO Chip Rogers voiced his disapproval after the legislation was announced.
“The lodging industry has long provided a pathway for fulfilling careers and the means for employees and entrepreneurs to achieve the American Dream,” Rogers said. “Unfortunately, the PRO Act, reintroduced in Congress this week, would undermine workplace flexibility and upward mobility for workers and create extensive and costly regulatory burdens for small business owners.
“While every worker has the right to freely join a union, the PRO Act would encroach upon worker privacy, subvert secret ballot elections and manufacture joint employer liability in an effort to impose a union on businesses and workers,” Rogers added. “We strongly oppose this damaging bill, which threatens to destroy jobs and assail businesses just as our economy is beginning to return to pre-pandemic normalcy.”
Sanders, a widely known proponent for unions, said that CEOs must be held accountable for “flagrantly violating labor laws, illegally firing pro-union workers, and closing down pro-union shops.”
“If we are going to reverse the 40-year decline of the middle class, reduce the widening gap between the billionaire class and everyone else, and take on the unprecedented level of corporate greed in America, we have got to rebuild the trade union movement,” Sanders said.
On March 8, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer and Head of Strategic Advocacy Neil Bradley wrote a letter to Congress urging them not to co-sponsor the PRO Act.
The measure would “effectively repeal the Taft-Hartley Act, labor law reforms enacted 75 years ago to rein in some of the most abusive union organizing tactics of that era,” Bradley said.
“Unions could once again engage in secondary boycotts and picketing, meaning that they could target any employer doing business with a targeted company even if those employers have no connection with the union,” Bradley said. “This would allow for the disruption of entire segments of the economy, a phenomenon that was common in 1947 when the law was passed.”
Bradley also noted how the Taft-Hartley Act allowed states to pass right-to-work laws that prevent workers from being fired for not paying union dues. Currently, 28 states have right-to-work laws, Bradley wrote. Passage of the PRO Act would “invalidate all states’ right-to-work laws currently in place,” he added.