Congress needs to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. This is why | Opinion

(Image via The Pittsburgh Current)

By Rick Bloomingdale and Frank Snyder 

The 21st century American Labor Movement is committed to lifting up all working people and dismantling the systemic oppression that has continued to divide our communities and our country for the better part of a century.

Suppressing economic rights creates two classes of citizens – the haves and the have nots. Silencing an employee’s voice at work creates an anti-democratic environment that does not allow positive input and ideas to build the business from the real experts on the job – the workers themselves.

Forming or joining a union is unlike membership in any other social organization. Employers who intend to remain union-free stop at little to convince, harass, threaten, or even fire those who simply seek to participate in a fair and representative process to collectively bargain terms and conditions related to their employment.

Such businesses would instead feed a billion-dollar, union-busting industry comprised of malicious consultants to prevent workers from exercising fundamental rights like freedom of speech or the freedom of association. One hundred years ago, thugs fought us with bullets. Today, they fight us with briefcases, with an equally devastating impact.

Imagine if you intended to join a club or organization that existed to represent its members’ collective interests yet were immediately met with a barrage of non-stop resistance. Imagine that the campaign of lies, bribes, and intimidation lasted for months, ridiculing the group and those who wish to join.

Today, workers experience this discriminatory treatment regularly with ‘captive audience’ meetings, a common employer tactic, which forces employees to sit through one-sided, anti-union presentations.

Constitutional law provides the legal requirement of “Due Process” to be extended to its citizens in society.  However, that right is not readily afforded to those at the workplace.

Those workers without a union are considered “At-Will” workers. At-Will employees can be fired for any reason or no reason. To kill a union organizing drive, many bosses do just that – fire workers. While this and many other union-busting schemes are illegal, the fines are so minimal they rival the cost of a twenty-year-old used car.

Many bosses consider this bullying an acceptable price of doing business.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) is the most significant opportunity to advance, enforce, and protect workers’ rights since the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was enacted in 1935.

Over the last 75 years, the NLRA has been whittled away by anti-worker amendments, making it more difficult for workers to form unions.

The PRO Act would restore the NLRA to its original intent — giving workers a collective voice to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment, including living wages, meaningful benefits, a safe working environment, retirement security, and protection against all forms of discrimination.

The National Labor Relations Board would have the ability to hold employers accountable for retaliating against workers who support union organizing.  Those who vote to join a union will be able to reach a first contract quickly. It also ends ‘right to work’ laws, which allow employers to divide their workforce.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, unionized workers have had a voice in how their employers navigated the pandemic.

Being covered by a collective bargaining agreement increases the chances of having medical coverage, adequate personal protective equipment, and the ability to negotiate policies that would secure enhanced safety measures, additional premium pay, paid sick time, and a say in terms of layoffs or work-share arrangements to save jobs, to name a few.

The coronavirus also added “essential workers” to the labor lexicon.  Essential workers are often the lowest paid and the least protected. Women and black and brown workers have been hit hardest by the impact of economic and racial discrimination.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics proves union workers overall earn considerably more than their non-union counterparts. And the difference increases dramatically in each of the aforementioned demographic groups. More people than ever want the freedom to join a union, but eliminating barriers is essential.

Pennsylvania has a legacy of worker power and courage to fight for what’s right. After all, it was in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, that the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the National Labor Relations Act. The PRO Act is the next step in what has been a painfully slow process to ensure workplace justice is a reality for all.

We call on all of our U.S. Senators to protect the right to organize by voting union YES on the PRO Act.

Rick Bloomingdale and Frank Snyder are, respectively, the president and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO of Pennsylvania. They write from Philadelphia.