This Sweeping Bill Would Expand Workers’ Rights for the First Time in Decades
The PRO Act would help workers who want to form a union
For the past few decades, unions have been under attack. Thanks in large part to laws that undermine labor organizations and make it hard for workers to organize, unions have suffered steep membership declines (just 10% of Americans now belong to one). As a result, wages have stagnated for union and non-union members alike, and the income inequality gap has widened. That’s not to say interest has totally waned: Nearly half of Americans would like to be part of a union and have a voice on issues such as job security, benefits, and compensation.
Enter the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a historic legislation that would expand collective bargaining rights for the first time in decades. The measure protects workers from employer retaliation connected to their organizing efforts, imposes new penalties on employers for unfair labor practices, and would allow independent contractors to become eligible for unionizing. The bill, introduced by Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support earlier this month. President Biden has pledged to support the legislation, but first it faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
GEN spoke with Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, a longtime labor advocate and former vice-chair of the Education and Labor Committee, about the PRO Act and why every American should belong to a union.
GEN: How would you describe the state of labor law today in the United States?
Rep. Andy Levin: Woeful, I would say, because our labor laws are way out of date. They don’t confer rights on workers as they actually are today: gig workers, contracted-out workers, temp workers, many categories employers have created to evade their responsibilities. Those things are not dealt with.
Secondly, they give all the advantages to employers, even for workers who are covered by the labor laws. The power employers have over their workers is overwhelming and unfair, and it’s probably the biggest single contributor to income and wealth inequality in the American workplace today.