WASHINGTON (PAI)—By a party-line 26-21 vote after an all-day work session, the Democratic-run House Education and Labor Committee passed the Protect the Right to Organize (Pro) Act, the most-comprehensive pro-worker rewrite of U.S. labor law in decades. All the Democrats voted for it and all the Republicans voted against it.
The measure, co-written by top lawmakers and union legislative representatives, would restore many of the freedoms and protections workers gained under the original National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
The Pro Act, HR 2474, is also expected to pass the Democratic-run House, though the exact date for debate has not been set. The Republican-run Senate is another matter. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., lumps it with other House-approved measures – including federal elections reform – as “socialism.”
And the crooked corporate contributors to congressional Republicans can be expected to mount a large and expensive lobbying campaign against it, just as they spent millions of dollars a decade ago to stall the last labor law rewrite try, the Employee Free Choice Act.
That eventually fell victim to Democratic President Barack Obama’s inattention, lack of public commitment and concentration on the Affordable Care Act.
The Pro Act would undo much of the damage the GOP-passed Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and later court decisions, NLRB rulings and other Republican-crafted legislation did to worker rights while tilting the playing field for bosses.
It would also counter a key assumption of the NLRA: That bosses break labor law unintentionally, so penalties should be light – unlike other civil rights laws.
Eighty-four years of experience shows that’s wrong. The Pro Act recognizes that with high fines for labor law-breaking – including fines directed at CEOs and boards of directors, immediate restoration of illegally fired workers to their jobs, and swift court injunctions.
And the Pro Act would, among other moves, outlaw two big holes in the NLRA. The GOP inserted one via Taft-Hartley: Legalizing state so-called “right to work” laws.
“The Pro Act would stonewall employers” from constant anti-union harangues in mandatory “captive audience meetings” and “would ban what I would call ‘right to freeload’ laws,” Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., a former AFL-CIO deputy organizing director, said.
Another change would drastically curb employer misclassification of workers as “independent contractors,” depriving them of worker rights, including the right to organize.
“What is keeping” workers from unionizing “are toothless labor laws, aggressive employer opposition to unions, and relentless political attacks that have dismantled workers’ right to organize,” Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., said.
- Mark Gruenberg