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February 11, 2020 12:15 PM, EST

House Approves Union Rights PRO Act; Senate Action Uncertain

UnionWorkers at a demonstration. (Getty Images)

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Legislation meant to strengthen certain rights of workers to unionize advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 6 mostly along party lines.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, sponsored by Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.), would establish penalties for employers found to be violating federally protected rights of employees. It was approved by a vote of 224-194.

The bill’s backers said their aims include enhancing membership in unions. The measure also would seek to limit interference in elections regarding unionizing.

“Today, House Democrats advanced the most significant upgrade to U.S. labor law in 80 years. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act is a bold proposal that makes necessary changes to protect and strengthen workers’ power in the workplace,” said Scott, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.

“Strong unions not only benefit those represented by unions, they benefit non-union workers and the children of union members. Union contracts are proven to even reduce the persistent racial and gender wage gaps, because under a union contract, men and women, blacks and whites — everyone — gets equal pay for equal work,” Scott continued.

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“The PRO Act secures justice for all workers and advances progress for all,” added Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Local tax revenues increase and education funding is bolstered. Inequality shrinks. It’s a virtuous cycle. The union movement and all working people are hungry to pro-worker reforms to our existing labor laws. It’s time for our laws to catch up.”

Republicans opposed to the bill argued its provisions would hinder the marketplace. The GOP-led Senate has not scheduled consideration for the measure. Specifically, Republican managers in the upper chamber have not outlined a path forward for the bill.

Moreover, the Trump White House threatened to veto the bill. “By imposing unnecessary and costly burdens on American businesses, this bill would take the country in precisely the opposite direction from the president’s successful deregulatory agenda, which has produced rising blue-collar wages and record low unemployment,” according to a statement from the White House on Feb. 5.

“By expansively defining joint employer liability, the bill would discourage investment and job creation and reduce opportunities for workers,” the White House added.

White House Statement PRO Act by Transport Topics on Scribd

The AFL-CIO backed the House’s legislation. The group’s president, Richard Trumka, claimed: “Unionized workers have a real say in critical workplace issues like time off to care for a loved one, the deployment of technology and protection from discrimination.”

The business community, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, led the opposition.

“While the bill is wrapped up in the gauzy packaging of worker rights, in reality, it’s just the opposite. It would undermine worker freedom in a number of ways,” Thomas Donohue, the chamber’s top executive explained. “The bill would threaten private ballots during a union organizing vote. The private ballot has been a sacred right in American elections for over a century. But under the PRO Act, workers could be forced to sign a card indicating their position on unionization in front of union organizers. The potential for coercion is obvious.”

Donohue

"The PRO Act undermines worker freedom one provision after another, whether it’s losing the private ballot, being forced to pay union dues or being told you can no longer work as an independent contractor," Donohue added.

In an analysis of the federal bill, Scopelitis, a law firm, determined: “The PRO Act adopts the adverse ABC test of independent contractor status that is also used in California’s controversial Assembly Bill 5. This change will effectively limit the use of independent contractors in U.S. trucking commerce for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act.”

The ABC test determines if a driver is an employee or a contractor through criteria, such as if the individual works outside the typical course of the hiring entity’s line of work.

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