MESSAGE FROM SECRETARY-TREASURER
Steven P. Vairma
Steve Vairma's Column:
Much work needed to pass PRO Act
So-called right-to-work (RTW) is the most destructive legislation ever to challenge the American labor movement. During the last decade, the law experienced a resurgence, being adopted in six states and becoming a workplace plague for working men and women while taking a huge toll on the labor movement.
But right-to-work can be "overridden" by the PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize Act), which is among the most labor-friendly legislative proposals introduced since the Employee Free Choice Act was defeated by Republicans with the help of some Democrats during the Obama Administration.
The PRO Act is expected to be introduced in the current session of Congress, as it was last year when it was passed in the House and not taken up in the Senate.
For workers, right-to-work has no redeeming quality. After it is enacted, workers' wages are almost immediately reduced, benefits are lowered, and working conditions and job protections are weakened.
In RTW states, the average hourly wages are 16 percent lower, while rates of workplace fatalities are up to 40 percent higher, than in states without this legislation. In 2019, the median wage for all workers in right-to-work states averaged $6,000 less than in non-right-to-work states.
In addition, nonunion employees in a unionized workplace have a "free ride." They receive all the benefits of union representation without having to pay for them. Instead, their costs must be borne by their fellow union workers.
Labor has struggled with RTW since 1947 when the Taft-Hartley Law was passed over President Harry Truman's veto.
From 1944 to 1963 twenty states passed right-to-work laws. From 1963 to 2011, only three more states passed the onerous legislation. But in the last decade right-to-work has been resurrected. If it is passed and enacted in Montana this year - which might be likely given the state's governor and its congressional delegation it will be the 28th state to adopt the legislation.
That's why passage of the PRO Act, which could nullify state right-to-work laws, is so important. It's time for all congressional Democrats and maybe a few Republicans (if that's possible) to put their money where their mouths have been for the past several decades.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the PRO Act overrides so-called "right-to-work" laws by establishing that employers and unions in all 50 states may agree upon a "fair share" clause requiring all workers who are covered by and benefit from the collective bargaining agreement to contribute a fair share fee towards the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement.
Among other areas, the PRO Act establishes compensatory damages for workers and penalities against employers (including penalities on officers and directors) when employers break the law and illegally fire or retaliate against workers for union activity. It also speeds up the process of certification of the union as the bargaining agent for the workers and deals with misclassification of workers, among other things.
EPI reserach shows that nearly 55 percent of all nonunion workers today would join a union if they had the oppotunity. The PRO Act would allow them to do that, and it along with pension reform should be among the first asks of President Biden by the unions.