On March 9, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021, or PRO Act, a bill designed to make it easier for employees to unionize and, according to President Joe Biden, will dramatically enhance worker’s ability to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. The bill is a key component of the Biden administration’s pro-union policy agenda.
Among other things, the PRO Act:
- revises the definitions of employee, supervisor, and employer to broaden the scope of individuals covered by the fair labor standards;
- permits labor organizations to encourage participation of union members in strikes initiated by employees represented by a different labor organization (i.e., secondary strikes);
- and prohibits employers from bringing claims against unions that conduct such secondary strikes.
According to the legislative summary, the bill also allows collective bargaining agreements to require all employees represented by the bargaining unit to contribute fees to the labor organization for the cost of such representation, notwithstanding state (Right To Work) laws to the contrary; and includes prohibitions against replacement of, or discrimination against, workers who participate in strikes.
AGC Condemns Bill as Denying Worker Rights
While the bill has obvious support from labor unions, many businesses and industry employers, including those in construction, have expressed grave concerns about a number of its components, arguing that the bill would actually prove detrimental to those it’s designed to help.
Following House passage, Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO, Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), issued a scathing statement accusing House Democrats of voting “in favor of idling workers, stripping their privacy and denying them the opportunity to establish their own businesses.” He labeled many of the PRO Act’s provisions as “anti-worker, anti-privacy and anti-recovery.” For example, he noted the bill would deny workers the right to a private union election ballot. “It also forces employers to disclose private details about their workers to unions, including their home addresses, emails and shift schedules,” he adds.
“The measure authorizes a host of long-prohibited labor actions, including secondary boycotts, where unions can picket firms that are not involved in a dispute with that union. These boycotts will force many workers to suffer, without pay, for disputes where they do not stand to benefit,” he continued.
Sandherr's statement opposing the PRO Act also claims concern over what it calls the bill’s discrimination against independent contractors. A provision of the PRO Act, intended to prevent worker misclassification under the National Labor Relations Act, could, in effect, make it more difficult for independent contractors to maintain their status as non-employees. “This means workers will no longer be able to successfully establish their own businesses and become their own bosses,” Sandherr asserted.
Sandherr predicted that, if enacted, the broader impact of the PRO Act would be “a new era of labor unrest that will stifle future economic activity and job growth. Instead of helping deliver higher wages and better benefits, the PRO Act will provide labor uncertainty, stagnant economic growth and diminished entrepreneurial opportunity.”
ABC Calls House Passage "An Absolute Shame"
Michael Bellaman, president and CEO of "the voice of the merit shop in the construction industry" the Associated Builders and Contractors, echoed many of Sandherr’s concerns, stating, “It is an absolute shame that House Democrats would vote to strip workers of their privacy, freedom and choice.” He claimed the legislation and its “radical provisions” would force the closure of thousands of small businesses and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and employee rights.
According to Bellaman, under the bill’s provisions, the 87% of construction workers who choose not to join a union could be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. This and other consequences of the bill could hamper construction's ability to fill vital roles.
“While the construction industry has already recovered three-quarters of the jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, contractors need to hire hundreds of thousands of workers in 2021 just to keep up with the demand for construction services,” Bellaman noted. “If the PRO Act becomes law, it will limit the ability for the construction industry to bring back or hire those professionals.
"In a time of economic recovery, lawmakers should be working collaboratively and productively on legislation that will help our employees achieve their career dreams," he added. "The PRO Act is the farthest cry from the solution that our economy, businesses and workers need.”
The PRO Act passed in the House with a 225-206 vote, but appears far less likely to advance in the Senate given the lack of support among Republicans legislators. The AGC and other industry organizations plan to continue to oppose the measure and work to ensure Senate passage does indeed fail.