We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals;Samuel Gompers “What Else Does Labor Want”
more learning and less vice;
more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge;
in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures.”
Now that Democrats control the presidency and both Congressional Chambers, what will organized labor, a key partner in the Democratic coalition, want?
Former Boston mayor Marty Walsh is the new Secretary of Labor. The Senate voted 68 to 29, indicating at least some bipartisan support in his confirmation. A lifelong union activist, Walsh joined the Laborers’ Union Local 223 at age 21. In 2011, he became leader of the Boston Trades Council, representing construction unions. The voters elected Walsh mayor of Boston in 2014. Walsh has been a supporter of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, the PRO Act, a reform of the National Labor Relations Act.
The PRO Act would strengthen workers’ rights in several ways:
- More than two dozen states have “Right to Work” laws. These laws allow workers to opt-out of paying union dues even though they still receive the wage and benefits from their union contract. The PRO Act would allow unions to collect dues from those who opt out of paying their dues. This money would cover the cost of collective bargaining and administration of the contract.
- The PRO Act would provide penalties for employer interference in union certification elections. Tactics such as mandatory company-sponsored meetings, which are used to oppose union-organizing, would be outlawed.
- Employees would be allowed to cast their ballot in union certification elections at a location off company grounds.
- The Act would establish substantial penalties for companies and executives that violate workers’ rights. Corporate directors and officers of the company would be held personally liable for employer violations. The National Labor Relations Board would be authorized to fine employers up to $50,000 for each labor violation. Workers whose rights have been violated would be eligible for back pay and job reinstatement, and further damages for employer retaliation.
- If a newly organized workplace disagrees on the first contract between labor and management, the PRO Act allows the freshly certified union to seek arbitration and/or mediation.
- Under the PRO Act, employers may not use immigration status against employees in their employment.
- Some independent contractors may be considered employees for the purposes of union organizing. This would allow workers at companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash to organize or join unions.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said, “
The PRO Act would protect and empower workers to exercise our freedom to organize a bargain… It’s a game-changer. If you really want to correct inequality in this country — wages and wealth inequality, opportunity and inequality of power — passing the PRO Act is absolutely essential to doing that.”AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka
The PRO Act passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, February 6th, 2020, by a vote of 224 to 194, mainly along party lines. At that time, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chair of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, stated his committee would not consider the legislation in that session. With Democrats in control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate, organized labor will press for reconsideration of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act.
Thanks and a tip of the hat to Wikipedia for the image of Marty Walsh being sworn in as Secretary of Labor.