Last week, the deceptively named Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act received a hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
The event was chock full of predictable soundbites crafted to frame the Act as a path to empower workers. In reality, the PRO Act, which has already passed the House and received lip service from President Joe Biden, would amount to the largest expansion of institutional union power in the history of America at the expense of individual employee rights.
Union membership rates as a percent of the workforce have steadily declined since the 1980s. Unions complain about unfair rules that favor management. In reality, except for the ebb and flow of changing majorities at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the basic law has gone unchanged for 75 years. The real issue for unions is the American workforce understanding that promised benefits of union membership are not worth the price of the excess baggage that comes with signing on.
Unions are spending member dues in increasingly partisan ways that generally don’t directly benefit workers. The priority is no longer wages and working conditions. It’s getting Democrats elected to office, despite member political preferences or opinion on whether their dues should be spent on politics. Beyond supplying campaigns with paid foot soldiers, over the past 10 years, unions have spent more than $1.6 billion in dues to benefit left-wing special interests.
One report estimates that, if adopted, the PRO Act could nearly double union revenue to $20 billion annually. Three billion dollars of which is predicted to be earmarked for political spending every election cycle. The possibility surely has lefty political campaigns drooling. The money will inevitably end up in their pockets.
The act would empower unions to bypass secret-ballot elections when attempting to organize a workplace. The alternative to secret ballots would be a system known as “card check” where workers are left open to peer pressure and face-to-face intimidation tactics that can override their true preferences. If workers want to organize, it should be their choice, not a result of union thug strong-arming. With all the hand-wringing over recent federal elections, it is remarkable that card check voting hasn’t been linked to the current debates over voting integrity.
The legislation would also compel employers to share sensitive contact information of employees with unions—including personal cell phone numbers, email addresses, and home addresses. Instead of getting a call about the expiring warranty on a car you no longer own, a labor organizer could be on the other end of the line; or worse, on your doorstep. (Note that employers are barred by law from making these personal home visits.) I’m sure most employees would prefer to be left on the “do not call and do not come to my house list.”
And for employees in 27 states who currently enjoy Right-to-Work (RTW) protections, you’ll be out of luck if the PRO Act passes. The bill would supersede state law and mandate that employees in unionized workplaces lose their right to opt-out of coverage by union regulations and forced dues and fines. Under the PRO Act, they must hand over a portion of their paycheck to union bosses or lose their job. The cry from unions that these forced memberships are needed to offset free riders who benefit from higher contract pay rates rings hollow. Unions already successfully recruit members in RTW states when they can effectively convey their value to employees. As of 2019, more than two million people are voluntarily supporting unions in these RTW states.
While much of the union wish list in the PRO Act has been seen, rejected, or ignored by Congress many times before, the largest new power grab is the PRO Act’s provision to strip gig economy workers (think Uber drivers) and other freelancers of their financial independence. Unions view the growing group of gig economy workers as potential dollar signs and want to make them easier targets to organize. Therefore, the bill would reclassify millions of independent contractors as employees, which would eliminate their autonomy and choice of which days and hours they go to work.
Surveys confirm most freelancers say the benefits of being an independent contractor outweigh the advantages of being an employee. But union organizers aren’t listening. They have their own agenda.
With Democrats in control of the Department of Labor, NLRB, House, Presidency, and Senate leadership, Big Labor recognizes an opening to secure a death grip on American workplaces. Any politician with a moral compass should vote NO on the PRO Act or risk an embarrassing display of ignorance and insensitivity to constituent interests.
• Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington, D.C.