Opinion: U.S. House must seize opportunity to side with workers
The U.S. House is expected later this week to consider legislation that would affirm and strengthen hardworking Americans’ right to organize on the job while shielding them from employer intimidation if they choose to form a union. After years of leaving workers behind, it’s high time lawmakers side with their constituents and get this done.
At a time when income inequality is pervasive and many elected officials talk about the need to close the pay gap, passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would provide a vehicle to get it done. It would provide workers with the tools to earn a decent wage that would support their families. The bill would address weaknesses in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) so that those seeking to organize a union and negotiate higher wages and better benefits will be protected.
For generations, it has been well known that our nation’s labor laws are inadequate to protect the rights of millions of workers. Under current law, unscrupulous employers, armed with limitless funds, routinely violate the NLRA and block workers’ ability to exercise their right to bargain. The PRO Act would level the playing field and give workers a fair shot when they join together to have a voice in the workplace.
This legislation increases penalties on employers who break the law and gives workers a private right of action if they’ve been terminated for union activity. It prohibits the use of coercive activities like captive audience meetings and establishes a process for mediation and arbitration to stop stalling tactics at the bargaining table and help parties achieve a first contract.
Importantly, the bill addresses rampant intentional misclassification under the NLRA and ensures that misclassified workers are not deprived of their right to form a union. It also would crack down on bad actors by streamlining procedures to grant swift solutions to workers. And it would update the NLRA to make it to apply to today’s 21st century workforce.
Such solutions are needed now more than ever. Currently in the U.S., three men own as much as the bottom half of Americans, and the richest 5% of Americans own 66% of the nation’s wealth. The top one-tenth of 1% have seen their salaries soar 341% since 1979, while the bottom 90% saw them grow only 24% during this period.
Wages grew at 2.9% in 2019, but since inflation is about 2%, real wage growth was only 1%. The last decade was the second-slowest for payroll growth since the 1940s.
Working Americans know they deserve better. It’s why support for unions in a recent Gallup Poll reached almost a 50-year high. The American labor movement is responsible for many things today that are taken for granted — the weekend, the 40-hour workweek and anti-child labor laws to name a few.
The PRO Act would ensure that workers would have the ability to exercise their right to come together and stand up for better pay, benefits, retirement security and more rights on the job. Workers want to believe that Congress will do the right thing, but are tired of empty promises.
Lawmakers, now is the chance to prove you are listening. Give people the power they deserve.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers Acting President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.