The House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a sweeping bill backed by unions and opposed by business groups, largely along party lines late on Tuesday.
The House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a bill that would substantially amend existing U.S. labor law, in a 225-206 vote Tuesday evening. Just five Republicans voted alongside Democrats in favor of the legislation while one Democrat voted with Republicans against it.
Republicans criticized the bill as a wishlist for union leaders and slammed Democrats for bypassing a House Education and Labor Committee markup of the bill. A vote to recommit the bill to committee failed prior to the final vote.
“The only thing the PRO Act does is protect the $1.6 billion that unions donate to support left wing organizations,” Republican North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx said during a press call Monday. “And it supports the union bosses that profit off of hardworking union workers.”
Foxx, who is the ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, added that unions have pushed for the bill to stop declining union membership, which has taken place over the last 60 years. The PRO Act forces unionization of workers who don’t want to join a union or pay union dues, according to Foxx.
Republicans proposed a series of amendments to the PRO Act, which were rejected by Democrats. One rejected amendment proposed by Foxx would have required unions with a president or vice president who has been convicted of a felony within the last three years to file more detailed financial disclosures with the Department of Labor.
The PRO Act is a compilation of various policy changes that labor unions support, which would make it easier for unions to organize private-sector employees and minimize employees’ choice in unionization.
The bill would remove workers’ ability to vote against unionization via secret ballot elections, threatens the ability for a workforce to kick a union out and forces non-union workers to pay union dues, according to the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW).
The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) said the bill would create an environment ripe for union coercion. The PRO Act ultimately gives the National Labor Relations Board, not workers, the final say in the decision to unionize a workforce, according to the NFIB.
The PRO Act would also nullify right-to-work laws that exist in 27 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Right-to-work legislation guarantees citizens the ability to choose whether they’d like to join or not join a labor union, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. This type of legislation is fiercely opposed by unions, which they say take rights away from working people.
The PRO Act would additionally implement the so-called “ABC” test, a legal test adopted in California that determines if a worker is a freelancer or not. The provision makes it harder for freelancers to continue working independently, forcing them to either work as full-time employees or risk going jobless, according to the International Franchise Association (IFA).
“Unions have, for many years now, waged a war against independent contractors,” Maxford Nelsen, the director of labor policy at the Freedom Foundation, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in November. “Unions’ preferred model of employment is for everybody to be in a traditional nine-to-five, 40-hour a week job punching and punching out.”
Several House Republicans labeled the PRO Act the “Pro Union Bosses Act” on Tuesday.
“Unions make American companies less efficient, less profitable, and less competitive, and they cost American jobs,” Republican Virginia Rep. Bob Good said during the House debate Tuesday.
Democrats argued that the bill’s provisions make it easier for workers to organize and protect themselves against businesses that seek to underpay or mistreat them. Democrats also suggested that rising income inequality in the U.S. is linked to falling union membership.
“The PRO Act is workers’ rights legislation that working people in our country have waited too long for,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said during debate Tuesday. “The House will pass it today and send it to the Senate for our workers and families.”
“When workers organize, they make our whole country a more equal place,” Democratic Michigan Rep. Andy Levin tweeted.
On Monday, President Joe Biden urged Congress to pass the legislation and promised to sign in into law when it reaches his desk. Signing the PRO Act was one of the president’s key campaign promises.
“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,” Biden said in a statement.
Business groups have roundly condemned the legislation, arguing that it will hurt the economy and businesses while threatening massive job losses.
“This legislation strips workers of their privacy, threatens private ballots, imposes California’s disastrous independent contractor test, jeopardizes employers’ right to free speech, and threatens the loss of a job should workers choose not to pay union dues,” Glenn Spencer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of the employment policy division, said in a statement.
The CDW, which represents millions of employers nationwide, denounced the legislation in a letter written to Congress last week. CDW Chair Kristen Swearingen said the bill was an attempt to “increase labor membership at any cost.”
The IFA and other business groups including the National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation and Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, also wrote to Congress in opposition to the PRO Act. The bill puts the coronavirus recovery at risk, the letter said.
The PRO Act would cost employers up to $45 billion in added costs, according to an American Action Forum analysis.
Unions, though, have pushed back, saying the PRO Act will increase wages, jobs and ensure more Americans have employer-sponsored benefits like health care.
“The PRO Act will strengthen workers’ ability to come together and demand a fair share of the wealth we create—boosting wages, securing better health care and rooting out discrimination,” American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations President Richard Trumka said in a February statement.
The Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employee, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Communication Workers of America and many other labor organizations have endorsed the PRO Act.