More than ever before, workers today seek greater freedom, flexibility, and privacy at the workplace. But outdated national labor policy has failed to keep pace to meet current worker preferences. Instead of seeking reform to meet worker expectations, in this session of Congress, Democrats introduced legislation that strips workers of long-held freedoms and endangers individuals’ private information.
On Thursday, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), along with 100 cosponsors, introduced the Protecting Workers’ Right to Organize (PRO) Act. This bill is a misguided effort that seeks to put the interests of labor unions over workers. Each provision of the bill either grants unions greater coercive powers, restricts worker choice, or increases the likelihood of industrial strife. The proposed bill reads like a wish list from the AFL-CIO or SEIU wish list of legislative reforms. (Democrats received over $200 million in union campaigns contributions in 2016.)
The PRO Act rejects many principles that workers hold dear. A majority of Americans support the idea that no individual should be forced to financially support an organization they disagree with or risk termination. Yet, a key provision of the PRO Act dismisses the views of most Americans and would strip all private-sector workers of right-to-work protections.
Right-to-work laws prohibit unions from charging non-members dues as a condition of employment. Currently, 27 states have adopted such laws, and all public-sector employees work in a right-to-work environment. Workers in several states have enjoyed right-to-work protections since the 1940s.
Eliminating right-to-work laws removes a crucial worker protection against union coercive powers. When a union organizes a workplace, by law, it represents all workers—those who support the union and those who do not desire union representation. By imposing union contract terms on everyone, this aspect of labor law prohibits individual workers from negotiating their own work conditions.
In addition, unions never stand for reelection after organizing an employer, which has led to the proliferation of “inherited unions.” Over 90 percent of workers never voted or asked for the union that represents them.
If right-to-work laws were to be eliminated, individual workers would be forced to pay for union representation they never had any say in choosing and may not want.
Privacy is another long held American value. A recent survey shows 95 percent of Americans are “concerned about businesses collecting and selling personal information without permission.”It is likely that 95 percent figure would change little if you were to swap “businesses” for “labor union.” But Democrats are making a bad bet that that is not the case. The PRO Act would compel employers to provide employee contact information to union organizers, including personal cell phone numbers, email addresses, and work schedules—without an opt-out provision for those who prefer not to share personal data or have a third party know when they are home or at work.
Even the pro-union Obama National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) acknowledged problems could arise from providing labor unions with workers’ private data and that it could be used to “harass, coerce, or rob employees.” And labor unions have a history of abusing workers’ private information. As I previously wrote:
[I]n 2010, a case before the NLRB involved agents of the Communication Workers of America Local 1103 in Connecticut using private information to harass a worker.
The CWA obtained Patricia Pelletier’s personal contact information and signed her up for thousands of unwanted magazine subscriptions and consumer products. She was billed thousands of dollars by magazine publishing companies and spent hours each day unsubscribing from the magazines.
Ms. Pelletier received this awful treatment simply because she tried to decertify her union. The ambush election rule only makes such retaliatory behavior easier to deploy against other hard-working men and women.
The PRO Act is also deliberately constructed to limit debate and the ability of workers to educate themselves on union representation during a union election. The bill would codify elements of the Obama NLRB ambush election rule. Specifically, the bill would shorten the time frame between the filing of a petition and the date on which an election is conducted to as little as 14 days and restrict how employers may discuss the impact of unionization with employees.
Shortening the union election process and limiting employee education on unionization is poor policy. Union representation impacts nearly every aspect of employees’ workplace lives. Once certified, a union will determine pay, benefits, work shifts, vacation and much more for all workers.
Workers must be afforded ample time to educate themselves on union representation. Workers are smart enough to hear the union and employer side of argument and come to a decision that best serve their interests. Congress should encourage robust debate during union organizing campaigns, not suppress it.