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May 2023

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Senate Lines Up Bills to Put Money Back in
Workers' Pockets and Expand Rights

Several bills introduced in the U.S. Senate would give working people more financial security and power if they become law.

The bills would reverse the Trump/McConnell tax increases on working people, prevent bosses from spying on workers on the job and off, defend locked-out and striking workers from losing their health coverage, and generally make it simpler and easier to organize.

Passing these new bills will be more difficult with pro-corporate Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, but the membership of the IBEW has never been in a better position to be heard and respected than it is right now, said Austin Keyser, assistant to the international president for government affairs.

"There is no path forward for the U.S. economy without the skills we have, and no one is in a better position to train and organize new workers with those skills than us," he said. "Working men and women will build this country's future, and this country's laws need to stop punishing us and rewarding the bankers and bosses who eat from our plate."

Director of Government Affairs Danielle Eckert said the two bills that would have the fastest, most direct impact on members' lives are the Tax Fairness for Workers Act and the No Tax Breaks for Union Busting Act.

The first would reverse tax increases signed into law by former president Donald Trump and once again let working people deduct from their taxes the costs of doing their jobs, just like businesses deduct the costs of running their businesses.

Since the Republican-controlled Congress passed the tax increases in 2017, working people have not been able to deduct the cost of work clothes, tools, personal protective equipment, travel or looking for a new job.

The bill, sponsored by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and co-sponsored by 40 other Democrats, would also reinstate the deduction for union dues.

"Companies can deduct the cost of negotiating contracts. Workers should be able to, too," Eckert said. "Companies deduct the cost of hiring lawyers and accountants who look out for their interests. It was grossly unfair that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans stopped us from doing the same."

The No Tax Breaks for Union Busting Act, also introduced by Casey and co-sponsored only by Democrats, would end taxpayer subsidies for companies running union-busting campaigns.

Political speech and lobbying are not tax-deductible, but the cost of worker surveillance, intimidation and even the bonuses paid to "union avoidance" contractors come right out of a company's taxes.

"The next time you hear about Starbucks or Walmart holding a captive-audience meeting, remember you're covering part of their cost out of your taxes whether you shop there or not," Keyser said.

Another bill under consideration would close a gap opened by fast-moving technologies that are further distorting the balance of power between workers and employers.

Today, American workers have no power over how their employers collect and use data about them. Companies can use mouse and keyboard trackers, require workers to wear devices that track their location and activities, and sell or transfer that information to anyone as long as it has some business-related justification, and they don't have to tell workers a thing.

The Stop Spying Bosses Act, introduced by Casey as well, would not only limit the tools employers can use to spy on people at work but also require them to inform employees when they start snooping: when, for instance, an "artificial intelligence" program is put in charge of analyzing information about workers and making automated decisions affecting job prospects.

The bill would also outright ban surveillance in bathrooms, breakrooms and while a worker is off duty, or surveillance targeting union organizers or whistleblowers.

"It's ridiculous that we have to pass a law that employers can't spy on us at home or in the bathroom or at volunteer organizing meetings. It's so un-American. No company should have to be told not to do it, but here we are," Eckert said.

Another seeming no-brainer of a bill, she said, comes from Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a Democrat.

His bill would prohibit employers from terminating health coverage for workers the company is locking out or who are on a lawful strike.

"Losing a paycheck is a big deal, but the risks of not having health care in America today can be ruinous for an entire family. It can wreck decades of saving and planning," Eckert said. "That deep vulnerability keeps many, many people from standing up and using the power we have."

The bill has 11 Democratic co-signers and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The Senate is also considering a bill that would end tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.

Sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, the bill would close tax loopholes that many companies doing business in the United States exploit for profit at the expense of workers.

Finally, the Senate is considering a bill that would put a workers' advocate in the highest halls of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Sen. Jack Reed, another Rhode Island Democrat, wants to change the rules for the bank's Board of Governors, requiring at least one of its seven members to speak for the American worker.

Looming over all these bills is the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would radically rebalance the American legal system to claw back rights taken away from workers almost since the day the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1934.

The bill was introduced Feb. 28 in the House and Senate with more than 200 co-sponsors, including one Republican in the House.

Most notably, it would end so-called right-to-work laws nationally, but it also takes aim at all the now-legal ways companies get between workers' desire to join a union and their ability to actually join.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans approve of unions, the highest level since 1965, according to a 2022 Gallup poll. Yet less than 8% of private-sector workers are members. The PRO Act is about getting the law out of workers' way and letting them take back power in the workplace.

"Each of these bills would make working people's lives better," Keyser said. "Dignity, respect and decency on the job are within our power to deliver. There's never been a better time to demand it."

"It's ridiculous that we have to pass a law that employers can't spy on us at home or in the bathroom or at volunteer organizing meetings."

– Danielle Eckert, government affairs director