- - Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Following the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act by the U.S. House of Representatives, we urge Sens. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, and Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, to consider the devastating impact the legislation would have on the commonwealth’s workers, businesses and economy.

The bill, which was recently passed by the U.S. House, threatens fundamental rights of employees and vital aspects of Virginia’s economy — infringing on the privacy rights of workers.

The PRO Act would violate the privacy of employees by mandating that employers share the personal contact information of workers with union organizers without employee approval and require employees to fill out union authorization cards while in the presence of union organizers and coworkers. This could leave employees who choose not to join a union as targets for in-person harassment and intimidation. Union organizers could show up at an individual’s place of residence or harass them on social media. There are no regulations governing what can and can’t be done with the employee’s data, meaning it could even be shared with or sold to third-parties.

The PRO Act would eliminate Virginia’s right-to-work law that passed in 1947 and mandate that employees pay union fees to maintain their employment. Revoking right-to-work laws would require that most employers take union dues directly from the paychecks of employees. This would essentially coerce employees into joining unions by forcing them to pay dues or risk being let go from their job — stripping them of their freedom of (and from) association.

For more than one year, the pandemic has taken a toll on the commonwealth’s economy. Shutdowns have led to job losses and business closures across Virginia — threatening the livelihood of thousands of residents. From January 2020 through January 2021, Virginia saw a total loss of 193,900 jobs with a significant portion coming from retail and other hard-hit industries.

Thousands of Virginians, working in retail and other hard hit industries, have lost their job and means to take care of their families. Virginians need our congressional leaders to remove barriers to getting our economy and job creation going, not throwing up unnecessary roadblocks that will result in significant job loss.   

But the Old Dominion is not alone. COVID-19 has affected communities across the U.S. and ultimately led to the nation’s worst recession since the Great Depression for hard-hit families. U.S. senators must understand the catastrophic economic impact this legislation would have — not only on the Commonwealth of Virginia, but throughout the entire nation.

If enacted, the PRO Act would make it increasingly difficult for individuals to hold independent contractor roles by implementing California’s “ABC Test” standard for reclassifying workers. This could have severe repercussions for millions of individuals across the nation who currently work as independent contractors. Workers could lose the freedom to choose their own hours, as well as the right to choose the work they do.

It would essentially eliminate the flexibility that comes with being an independent contractor and could put more than 8% of U.S. gross domestic product at risk. If implemented, the PRO Act could harm industries that have contributed to our nation’s economic prosperity and encouraged entrepreneurship for millions of Americans.

The PRO Act would implement a “card check,” which could certify a union regardless of the outcome of the secret ballot election. If unions are able to present signed authorizations from the majority of employees, some who may not have a full understanding of what it is they are signing, unions may be certified as the winner if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) concludes that the employer has engaged in unfair labor practice.

Additionally, the legislation gets rid of restrictions against “secondary boycotts,” which would give unions the right to go after businesses for anti-competitive reasons that don’t include organizing — allowing unions to target businesses, consumers or other unions and inflict economic harm.

One thing is clear: It will not be an easy road to recovery. It will take years for Virginia’s economy to recover, and its workers, entrepreneurs and consumers can’t afford the PRO Act. As director of government affairs for the Virginia Retail Federation, I have deep concerns about the impact the PRO Act will have on the commonwealth. With 1,057,777 jobs supported by retail, 87,997 retail establishments and a $63.5 billion gross domestic product (GDP) impact, there is a lot at risk with this misguided legislation.

U.S. leaders must look to solutions that will drive economic prosperity and bring new opportunities to Virginia and the rest of the nation. The PRO Act will only harm an already struggling economy, forcing workers to compromise their privacy rights, while limiting their ability to work independently. We must protect the rights of Virginia’s workers. That’s why we urge Messrs. Kaine and Warner to reject the PRO Act. 

• Jodi Roth is the director of government affairs at the Virginia Retail Federation.

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