Today, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released a report that analyzes the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2019 (H.R. 2474), which the House of Representatives is expected to vote on in September. The bill overhauls labor relations law and tilts the playing field in favor of unions without regard to the negative consequences on workers, employers, and the economy.
Despite the pro-union bias of the Obama administration, any regulatory victories that labor unions realized could be short lived. As has long been the case, precedent at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the agency governing private sector labor relations, swings like a pendulum depending on which party holds the executive office. The Obama NLRB took this concept to the extreme and overturned a collective 4,559 years of precedent, nearly all to the benefit of labor unions.
To secure gains made during the prior administration, the PRO Act seeks to codify several regulatory actions implemented by the Obama NLRB and other long sought-after union priorities.
To ease union organizing, the PRO Act codifies an Obama era regulation known as the “ambush election” rule. The underlying purpose of the ambush election rule is to shorten the time frame between the filing of a petition and the date on which an election is conducted to what could be as little as 10 days.
Union election data show that labor unions win more elections when they take place quickly and workers only get to hear about the benefits of union representation, not any of the potential downsides. As discussed in CEI’s report:
Before the ambush election rule went into effect, from 2004 to 2014, unions won only 60 percent of elections conducted in 36 to 42 days but won more than 86 percent of elections conducted in less than 21 days. From 2016 to 2018, unions won better than seven out of every 10 representation elections that they held under the supervision of the NLRB. Labor unions never enjoyed a 70 percent win rate in any of the prior decades.
New data show that union win rates have increased to 77 percent in the first half of 2019.
The decision to select a union representative is an important decision, one that impacts nearly every aspect of an individual’s work conditions. Workers need ample time to mull it over and hear from both sides. Furthermore, NLRB elections have been historically conducted efficiently with the median number of days from petition to election being 38 days.
In addition, the PRO Act would also codify a provision of the ambush election rule that requires employers to hand over workers’ private information, including personal cell phone numbers, email addresses, and work schedules, without any opportunity for workers to opt out of their employers sharing their personal data with third parties. Even the Obama NLRB acknowledged problems associated with this policy. In an NLRB guidance memo, the Board warned that that releasing employees’ private information may lead to the lists being used to sell to telemarketing services and “harass, coerce, or rob employees.”
The PRO Act also would require compulsory dues payments by effectively repealing all state right to work laws, which prohibit unions from charging fees to non-members. Eliminating such laws removes a crucial check on labor unions’ coercive powers.
Once a union successfully organizes a workplace, it is certified as the exclusive bargaining representative of all employees in the bargaining unit, including workers who voted against unionization. As an exclusive representative, the labor union has the authority to represent and negotiate a contract that sets work rules for all employees.
As such, right to work laws represent a compromise. Unions may represent dissenting workers, but right to work laws provide a check on this union authority by providing them with the ability to opt out of paying representation they do not want.
Right to work laws offset another problem that arises from exclusive representation. Under current law, labor unions never face reelection. This creates a situation known as “inherited unions,” where workers are represented by a union chosen by past employees and which they had no say in selecting. As little as 10 percent of private sector workers voted for the union that represents them.
In addition to lessening the negative impact of exclusive representation, right to work laws enable workers to hold union officials accountable. Right to work laws place the burden on union leadership to continually prove the organization’s value to their membership.
Even some union officials understand the benefits of right to work laws. United Auto Workers union official Gary Casteel once stated, “This is something I’ve never understood, that people think right to work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’”
Overall, the PRO Act takes away workers right to choose how they spend their earnings, limit flexible work arrangements, and endangers workers’ privacy.
To learn about how the PRO Act harms employee free choice, view the report here.