Democrats in Congress introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act with the state goal of strengthening union power and increasing union membership, which is near all-time lows. But to produce such a result, the rights of workers during union organizing campaigns are curtailed.
One provision of the PRO Act causes privacy concerns at the onset of a unionization drive before a union is even certified as the workers’ representative. A union must first collect signed authorization cards from workers in the bargaining unit to trigger a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) supervised secret-ballot election. When a union petitions for an election, the employer is compelled—within two business days—to provide the labor union with a voter list. The PRO Act voter list includes “the names of all employees in the bargaining unit and such employees’ home addresses, work locations, shifts, job classifications, and, if available to the employer, personal landline and mobile telephone numbers, and work and personal email addresses.”
As a result, even employees who did not sign authorization cards will have their private information handed over. An individual worker, and their employer, have no authority to stop the private information from being given to the union. Even employees who support the unionization drive may be wary of handing over such sensitive data.
This provision could easily lead to the misuse of workers’ data. It is easy to imagine a union selling the list to telemarketers or providing it to a political campaign, a circumstance the Obama-era NLRB feared. Further, labor unions have a history of using workers’ private information to harass and intimidate them. In one example, the Communication Workers of America Local 1103 used a workers’ personal data to sign her up for unwanted magazine subscriptions and consumer products. She was billed thousands of dollars and had to spend hours each day unsubscribing herself.
Workers also receive little time to contemplate whether or not they desire union representation under the PRO Act. Regardless of whether a worker supports or opposes union representation, having ample time to think over the decision is crucial. It is often overlooked that a collective bargaining agreement is a contract between the employer and union—individual employees are not a party. As such, it is important for employees to understand that once a union is certified as the exclusive bargaining representative, an individual employee loses much their autonomy at the workplace.
Previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions state that national labor policy favors “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open debate in labor disputes” to promote the informed choice by employees. But the PRO Act recognizes that open debate during elections has not benefitted labor unions. Further, data shows that labor unions win more elections when workers have little time to educate themselves on the wide-ranging impact of unionization.
To compress the time frame during union elections, the PRO Act essentially codifies the NLRB’s “ambush election” rule and would eliminate employers’ ability to challenge union misconduct and voter eligibility. Such changes could shorten the time frame between a petition and the election to as little as ten days. Former NLRB member Brian Hayes aptly explained in his dissent against the ambush election rule, “the principal purpose for this radical manipulation of our election process is to minimize, or rather, to effectively eviscerate an employer’s legitimate opportunity to express its views about collective bargaining.”
A shortened election process ensures workers primarily hear from union advocates, but little from opponents. Without hearing from both sides, employees likely will not learn that there is no guarantee the union will even be able to ratify a first collective bargaining agreement, that the union may not negotiate a pay increase, that the union controls the grievance process, or that tradeoffs are inherent to the collective bargaining process that can lead workers better or worse off.
While an employer’s ability to file complaints against the union during the union election process is curtailed, union charges against employers are taken seriously and can have enormous consequences.
Under the PRO Act, if a union loses an election and the NLRB determines the employers have improperly interfered with the election, and the employer cannot prove it did not impact the outcome of the election, the NLRB can foist the union on the employees without holding another election. For this to come to fruition, all the union must provide is written authorization from a majority of employees that they desire union representation.
A downside of what is known as the “card-check” organizing process, is that labor unions are not always completely honest with employees about what they are signing or may coerce workers to sign authorization cards. During the card-check organizing campaign at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, eight workers alleged that the United Auto Workers officials used “misrepresentations, coercion, threats, and promises” in an attempt to organize the plant. As is the case in many instances, the employees claim that the union officials lied to them and told workers that signing an authorization card did not count as a vote to join the union. However, those very cards were used by the union as proof that workers wanted to be represented by a union.
As I previously wrote:
Other provisions of the PRO Act compound the problems associated with card-check organizing efforts. The bill requires employers to hand over workers private information—home address, cell phone number, and email address—to unions. Workers would not have the option to opt out of sharing their private information. And, unions are known to use workers’ private information to harass and intimidate them at their homes in order to coerce workers into signing authorization cards.
And some union intimidation tactics deployed during card-check organizing are so abhorrent that a former United Steelworkers union organizer quit when another union official asked him to “threaten migrant workers by telling them they would be reported to federal immigration officials if they refused to sign check-off cards.”
To top it all off, the PRO Act essentially repeals all state right-to-work laws, which prohibit labor unions from charging non-members for representation. So not only are workers’ private information freely distributed against their will, they are given little time to educate themselves on unionization, and a union can even be foisted upon them without a secret-ballot election, workers who decide not to join the union are forced to pay fees for this unwanted representation.
The PRO Act’s priority of promoting union interests above all else is misguided. National labor policy must balance the needs of workers, unions, and employers. All the PRO Act does is tilt the playing field in favor of unions, while undermining employee free choice in the process.