On Feb. 5 — one day before 224 members of the U.S. House of
Representatives from both parties voted to approve a bill to make it easier for
working people to join labor unions — the White House issued a strongly worded statement
opposing the measure.
“This is another unfortunate example of President Trump’s willingness to talk a big game about being pro-union while his actions clearly contradict that,” said Director of Political and Legislative Affairs Austin Keyser.
As passed by the majority pro-worker House, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act contains a number of reforms designed to benefit all working people, such as modernizing the definition of unfair labor practices and allowing fines or lawsuits against employers who try to keep workers from forming workplace bargaining units.
But the Trump administration’s statement largely ignored the PRO Act’s wide range of pro-worker reforms. It falsely claimed, among other things, that the act’s provisions would violate workers’ privacy.
In reality, the measure calls for simply modernizing and codifying decades of NLRB rulemaking to ensure that employers provide things as job classifications, mobile phone numbers and e-mail addresses — alongside the other already required information — of employees who are set to vote in workplace representation elections.
The statement also asserts — again, erroneously — that the PRO Act would abolish with one stroke the so-called “right-to-work” laws that currently allow employees in 27 states to reap the benefits of being in a union without contributing to support the basic costs of maintaining those benefits.
What the bill actually aims to do is amend these laws to allow unions to fairly collect the funds they need to adequately represent all of the workers in a given bargaining unit, even those who choose not to become union members.
By contrast, each of the Democrats running in 2020 support the PRO act and its measures to restore the balance of power in favor of workers. Former Vice President Joe Biden, at the IBEW’s Political and Legislative Conference in November, showed particularly robust support for the bill.
“It used to be back in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ’90s, that in contract negotiations, when you sat across from a bargaining agent, you knew he respected you because you had power. Now, how many of us look across the table and think that person really respects you?” Biden asked. “It’s about power.”
Noting that he sponsored an earlier version of the PRO Act during his time in the Senate, Biden advocated for even tougher measures. “We are in a situation now that we can begin to take provisions of the PRO Act and make it different in the sense that the fines should be higher and we should hold individuals liable,” he said. “Because when you fine someone $50,000 or $500,000 in a big corporation, it comes from the stockholders. It should come out of your hide, Mr. Chairman, because you were the one who engaged in that unfair labor practice. We should focus on people we identify who are the culprits.
“I’ll have a secretary of labor who is from labor,” he promised. “That’s number one.” He also promised to have a White House-level enforcer, “a cop,” making sure labor laws are being adhered to and disqualifying any federal contractor who engages in unfair labor practices.
As for the White House claim that the PRO Act would “kill jobs and destroy the gig economy,” it’s simply not true. Nor does it simply mimic California’s recently passed Assembly Bill 5. That particular law codified the recent unanimous ruling by the California Supreme Court in the Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court case, making it harder for employers to misclassify workers as independent contractors and cheat them out of their deserved pay and benefits.
The PRO Act takes things beyond that law by creating in federal law a clear pathway for defining employment, a definition that would have a positive effect on the organizing efforts of the IBEW and other labor organizations, and more importantly, would improve the lives of misclassified workers and their families.
One thing the White House statement managed to get right is the PRO Act’s support for the First Amendment rights of union-represented workers. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act forbids so-called “secondary boycotts,” where union members peacefully picket or refuse to deal with nonunion shops or goods.
The PRO Act attempts to amend federal labor law to better align it with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have determined restrictions like those under Taft-Hartley infringe on a worker’s constitutionally guaranteed free-speech rights.
Even though the act is likely dead on arrival in the Senate, where the Republican majority has largely ignored worker-friendly legislation, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson encourages members to call their senators and register their support for it, nonetheless.
“The White House’s statement is an obvious attempt to pivot and change the conversation about the PRO Act,” Stephenson said. “That’s a good indication that working people are actually on the right track.”
You can reach your senators’ Capitol Hill offices at (202) 224-3121. Find their district office contact information at senate.gov/senators/contact.