by Joseph Romano, LUT Corresponding Secretary
“Whatever happened to the idea…that we all do better when we all do better?
- Paul Wellstone
This quote by the late former United States Senator from Minnesota, comes from a speech delivered by Mr. Wellstone in 1999 to the Sheet Metal Workers Union. Wellstone’s words are just as true now as they were two decades ago. In so many ways, they sum up how and why unions have succeeded in the past and continue to succeed to the benefit of all those associated with them.
In addition, the quote explains why all unionists should support a piece of federal legislation called the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. If passed in both houses of Congress and signed by the President, the legislation has the potential to help all workers do better than any law passed in a generation.
So, what is in the PRO Act and why does it deserve union support?
The Economic Policy Institute has recently reported that the share of workers represented by a union was a little over 12% in 2020. However, in research published in 2019, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, Thomas Kochan, noted that nearly half of all nonunion workers would vote for a union if given a chance to do so.
Most workers recognize that there is strength in numbers and collective bargaining against large and powerful corporations is the only way to create some semblance of equity at the bargaining table. The reason many groups of workers don’t organize is because of the pressure put on them not to by their employers and the penalties imposed on them for attempting to exercise their rights to form unions. They would join a union if given a chance. But they just aren’t given a fair chance to do so.
The PRO Act will strip away the ability for businesses to engage in many of the anti-union tactics they have engaged in with impunity for years. The law establishes civil penalties for workers who are illegally fired or made to experience substantial economic harm due because they tried to organize a union. The law bans so-called captive audience meetings in which business owners force workers to attend anti-union messaging. The legislation also permits workers’ use of company mailboxes and email systems for organizing and makes certain that the company does not engage in any tactics meant to delay a vote amongst workers regarding their decision whether or not to unionize.
The PRO Act ensures that workers are guaranteed a seat at the bargaining table once they choose to engage in negotiations with an employer as a unit. Whether employers wish to or not, they must respect the decision of the workers to form a union and bargain in good faith with that union in a timely manner. If the employer and union cannot agree on a deal, the employer cannot use this impasse as a stall tactic for certifying the union. Instead, newly formed unions can seek arbitration and mediation to resolve these matters.
In addition to giving workers the rights to form a union and be recognized at the bargaining table, the PRO Act will eliminate the ability of freeloaders in so-called “right to work” states to enjoy the wages and benefits negotiated by the union in their contract but not pay any of the costs involved in collective bargaining for that contract or the overall administration of that contract.
Those of us in a union understand that our salaries, benefits, work safety, right to fair representation in disciplinary matters and so much more, all come from the power we have to stand as one at the bargaining table with our employer. In situations like the fight against a Constitutional Convention in 2017, unionists saw what happens when all union workers from across different professions joined together to protect well-earned benefits. Union workers know that, as Senator Wellstone so aptly put it, “we all do better when we all do better.” Unfortunately, so many workers across America lack the ability to stand together in this way and, as a result are taken advantage of by employers who use their power to keep individual workers under their thumbs. Passage of the PRO Act would balance the playing field and give the American worker a fair shot.
On March 9, the House of Representatives passed the PRO Act. The legislation now moves on to the Senate. If all workers, those with union benefits and without, joined together in support of the bill, there is chance the legislation can pass the Senate, be signed into law by the President and make a difference in the lives of all American workers.