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House Passes Major Worker Reform Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) promotes the PRO Act during a Capitol Hill press conference. Behind her are AFL-CIO Pres Richard Trumka and members of Congress who are trade unionists.

With bipartisan support, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (HR 2474) cleared the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday evening. The final vote was 224 in favor and 194 against.

The AFL-CIO, the MTD and its affiliates strongly support the measure designed to help workers join a union.

Also known as the PRO Act, the bill would change some of the nation’s labor laws to penalize companies that retaliate against workers who try to organize, to strengthen collective bargaining rights, and to weaken state-enacted Right-to-Work (for less) laws.

At a press conference in the U.S. Capitol on February 5, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka let others know the importance of this legislation: “Those who would oppose, delay or derail this legislation, do not ask us – do not ask the Labor Movement – for a dollar or a door knock! We won’t be coming!”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the conference. Besides Trumka, she was joined at the podium by House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA), other House members who belong to unions and rank-and-file trade unionists.

In a January 31 letter signed by the AFL-CIO, the MTD and many of its affiliates along with more than 100 other organizations supporting the PRO Act, elected officials were informed, “The ability of working people to join together to collectively bargain for fair pay and working conditions is a fundamental right. When working people join a union, they have a voice on the job and the ability to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions.”

The letter continued, “The PRO Act would go a long way toward restoring workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively by streamlining the process for forming a union, ensuring that new unions are able to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement, and holding employers accountable when they violate workers’ rights.”

Currently, there are no penalties on employers and no compensation for a worker when an employee is fired or faces retaliation for trying to organize a union. As passed, the PRO Act would call for fines for violations of the National Labor Relations Act. It would require the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to go to court for an injunction to reinstate workers if the NLRB believes they illegally have been retaliated against for union activities.

Even though current labor law calls for employers to bargain in good faith when workers choose to be represented by a union, employers in most cases find a way to drag out the bargaining process to avoid reaching a settlement. The PRO Act, as passed by the House, establishes a timely process for gaining a first contract – including mediation and, if needed, binding arbitration. The bill would permit unions and employers to reach a “fair share” clause requiring all workers covered by a collectively bargained contract to contribute a fair share towards the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement in all 50 states.

The PRO Act deals with worker misclassification to tighten the definitions of independent contractor and supervisor, making sure that eligible workers can organize if they so choose. The bill also would prohibit employers from permanently replacing strikers.

The PRO Act goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration. The Washington Postreports the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), has said the measure will not be considered this year.

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