Senate Committee Advances PRO Act on Worker Classifications

In February, House Democrats Introduced a Version of the Bill
hard hats
The PRO Act would pursue certain revisions to definitions of an employee, supervisor and employer. (Rapeepat Pornsipak/Getty Images)

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A Senate panel on June 21 approved legislation that would seek to update federal classifications for workers.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee advanced the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2023 to the floor by a partisan 11-10 vote. Specifically, the measure would pursue certain revisions to definitions of an employee, supervisor and employer. The bill also would seek to enhance certain workforce rules associated with organizing and collectively bargaining.

The committee, led by Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), unveiled background about the bill ahead of its consideration: “The PRO Act would make it easier, not harder, for workers to join unions and successfully secure a first union contract.”

“At a time when there has been a significant increase in the desire of workers to join unions, we cannot allow large corporate interests to continue to break the law, and deny their employees the constitutional right to organize,” according to background information about the legislation.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the committee’s ranking member, led the bill’s unified Republican opposition at the hearing. Cassidy, along with Republican colleagues, argued the measure’s consideration deviated from the panel’s aim for bipartisanship. As he put it, “The PRO Act is not pro-worker, it is just pro-big union. Being pro-worker means defending the rights of all workers, including those who decide they don’t want to join a union.”

“It eliminates secret ballot elections for unionization, the gold standard to keep somebody from being put into a corner and intimidated until they vote the way the intimidator wishes them to vote. Secret ballot elections also protect workers from retaliation if they choose a different way,” Cassidy continued, adding, “The PRO Act would eliminate Right-to-Work in my home state of Louisiana and 25 other states, forcing workers against their will to unionize. By the way, if somebody wants to join a union more power to them. … This legislation is part of a disturbing trend by President [Joe] Biden and congressional Democrats to erode workers’ individual rights.”

The bill’s consideration on the Senate floor has yet to be scheduled.

In February, House Democrats introduced a version of the PRO Act. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) is a sponsor: “The PRO Act will ensure that every worker can reap the benefits of a union, which means bigger paychecks, better benefits and safer workplaces.” The bill’s consideration in the Republican-led House has not been scheduled. Soon after the legislation’s introduction, Biden urged lawmakers to clear the bill for enactment.

“I urge Congress to send the PRO Act to my desk so we can seize the opportunity to build a future that reflects working people’s courage and ambition, and offers not only good jobs with a real choice to join a union — but the dignity, equity, shared prosperity and common purpose the hardworking people who built this country and make it run deserve,” the president said in March.

Various freight stakeholders, meanwhile, continue to express opposition for the PRO Act, which most compare to California’s AB 5. That state law installs a test to determine if an individual should be classified as a company’s employee. American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear told a House panel earlier this year the legislation would “destroy the independent contractor business model and exacerbate the driver shortage.”

Spear went on, “We strongly urge Congress to reject the PRO Act. Instead of crippling the independent contractor model on which the trucking industry relies, Congress should seek to strengthen it as a means to address the driver shortage.”

ATA recently determined the trucking workforce is short about 78,000 drivers.

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