House Democrats have proposed a new law, which many compare to California’s Assembly Bill 5, to favor labor unions by implementing sweeping “Right to Work” laws. Authored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and called The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (Pro Act), the bill is backed by labor unions which have lost members, money and political influence the past ten years.
The unions oppose “Right to Work“ laws in states that allow employees choose if they want to pay union dues. A Right To Work law guarantees that no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join, nor to pay dues to a labor union, according to the National Right to Work Committee. While this has resulted in unions losing millions of dollars, workers gained the freedom to decide whether to contribute to a labor union.
The number of private sector union members has dropped since the United States Supreme Court decided the Janus vs. AFSME case concerning the power of labor unions to collect fees from non-union members. The court ruled that mandatory union fees in the public sector violate the First Amendment right to free speech, unless union members are given the choice.
House Republican Ranking Member Virginia Fox (R) wrote, “Under H.R. 2474, millions of workers who do not wish to be classified as traditional employees, let alone represented by a union, lose freedom and flexibility and are subject to union organizing.“
Fox’s statement to Congress echos the complaints by thousands of independent contractors who are trying to reverse AB 5.
The PRO Act, H.R. 2474, would preempt state labor laws, overrule three Supreme Court decisions, and transform the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) into a punitive one. The PRO Act would:
- Require workers to pay dues to a union
- Change the definition of joint employment in order to ease union organizing;
- Amend the definition of employee to increase the pool of employees eligible for unionization;
- Impose government-mandated arbitration to dictate employment terms in first negotiations
- Promote card-check organizing, a process that forces union representation on workers without a secret-ballot election.
Workers Fighting Back Against AB 5
On Tuesday the California Globe reported, “Assemblyman Kevin Kiley led a Repeal AB 5 rally. At the rally Kiley said videographers and caricaturists, transcriptionists and interpreters, technicians and engineers, analysts and consultants, musicians and conductors, Artists and Dancers, writers and editors, coaches and trainers, teachers and tutors, nurses and doulas… ‘Perhaps never in our history has a legislative enactment so shattered the lives of so many people, or so shaken the foundations of our pluralist society.’”
The House bill opens the door for more lawsuits on business owners by allowing employers to be sued or fined if they prevent employees from unionizing. Opponents say the bill will give employees more power over their employers.
Although the Republican controlled Senate is not expected to pass the bill, Democrats are showing their cards on what they will do if they control the Senate. The Republicans meanwhile are are working hard to establish more Right to Work states, and further reduce labor’s political influence in the workplace.
A recent win in Missouri strengthened the union’s renewed fight against employers. The “Show Me State“ almost became the 28th to enact the Right to Work law, following in the footsteps of Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Right to Work was thwarted when unions gathered 300,000 signatures to freeze Republican Governor Eric Greitens’ bill. The win in Missouri strengthened the labor unions’ will to fight back against employers.
Labor unions are angry that the American worker today isn’t as eager to unionize as in the past, further realized when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 40-year precedent forcing employees to pay into labor unions with the Janus v. AFSCME decision.
The Janus ruling was a huge win for the Republicans but the Democrats look at the Missouri fight as a sign unions are not dead.
The AFL-CIO raised $15 million for their win in Missouri. The AFL-CIO is the nations largest federation of unions, and they wrote the controversial new law AB 5.
AB 5, also known as the Gig Worker bill, authored by Assemblywomen Lorenzo Gonzalez (D-San Diego), a union backed politician who is currently receiving significant backlash from both Democrats and Republicans for killing the freelance, and independent contractor industry.
The Gig Worker bill requires companies that hire independent contractors to reclassify them as employees with very few exceptions. The law stemmed from a California Supreme Court case in 2018, the Dynamex Operations West, Inc vs. Superior Court of Los Angeles.
However, labor unions are getting push back with AB 5 in California. There are four lawsuits currently challenging AB 5, and protests and rallies are being held in opposition. Republican Lawmakers are proposing bills to repeal or overturn AB 5, which affects more than 2 million California residents.
However, the unions, and California Democrats remain steadfast in their support and determination for AB 5. Gonzalez has gone on record saying she wishes everyone was in a union.
In May 2019, Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions, made his case for the PRO-Act in front of Congress. “Something is happening in America. Workers are embracing collective action with a fervor I haven’t seen in a generation,” Trumka said.
Trumka’s statement does not reflect the current pushback expressed by California residents who feel the unions are stripping away their freedoms.
Nationally there are more than 56-million freelancer workers. These are people who want to work on their own terms, and will negotiate employment contracts themselves. Forcing freelance and independent workers into full time employment for the purpose of joining a labor union goes against the freelancers goal of being free.
Unions say they want the worker to have voice, but as California Globe also reported, a study conducted by an independent research firm and commissioned in partnership by Upwork and Freelancers Union showed, “Freelancers are more politically active: In this election season, freelancers indicated they are 19 points more politically active than non-freelancers. More than seven in 10 (72%) said they’d be willing to cross party lines to vote for candidates who support freelancer interests.“
Officials with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Institute for the American Worker said, “The PRO Act threatens to radically alter labor relations law at the state and national level, disregarding worker choice with destructive economic effect.”
The Competitive Enterprise Institute also reported that worker preferences have changed over the past several decades, “Individuals desire greater flexibility and independence at the workplace rather than the uniformity that comes with collective bargaining and union representation.“
That report echos the thousands of statements made by Californians affected by the AB 5 law.