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‘If you want higher wages, let me tell you what to do’

Nov 3, 2021 | Blog

By Michael Kelley

A Southern newspaper editorial writer, weighing in on the evils of the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, warned readers that “You might be a member of a labor union next year, if this thing is passed and signed.”

Horrors! A bigger paycheck, better benefits, people who will stand up for you in a dispute with your employer, the right to sit across the table from your boss and bargain with dignity for the rights and benefits you deserve. Who would want that?

As a matter of fact, a lot of Americans could use more leverage in the workplace. It behooves us to recognize and celebrate the long, productive relationship between organized labor and the Democratic Party. And a good way to reinforce that relationship would be to persuade the U.S. Senate to pass the PRO Act and send it to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The PRO Act (HR842), which the House passed on March 9 but has stalled in the Senate, has been described as “the labor movement’s single biggest legislative priority in this Congress.” Passage would represent a giant leap for the nation’s unions, offsetting some of the decline in union membership over the last several decades that has hampered the growth of the American middle class.

New Mexico is a relatively labor-friendly state. But the state’s workers would benefit from passage of the PRO Act, which would streamline procedures for union representation elections, modify protections against unfair labor practices, and establish penalties and injunctive relief against entities that fail to comply with National Labor Relations Board orders.

Companies could face monetary penalties for violating workers’ rights. All employees represented by the bargaining unit would be required to contribute fees to the union to cover the costs of representation, and unfair labor practices would be expanded to include the replacement of, or discrimination against, workers who participate in strikes.

Among other prohibitions, employers could not require or coerce employees to attend meetings designed to discourage union membership or enter into agreements with employees under which they would waive the right to pursue class-action litigation.

“The Protecting the Right to Organize Act passed the House because Democrats know that standing up for workers’ rights is essential in addressing inequalities and building a strong middle class,” District 3 New Mexico Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez said in a news release.

A few weeks before his death, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka told NPR: “The PRO Act is … a game changer. If you really want to correct inequality in this country — wages and wealth inequality, opportunity and inequality of power — passing the PRO Act is absolutely essential to doing that.”

Michael Kelley, copy editor of DPSFC Newsletter, is a retired newspaper editorial writer, most recently with the Memphis Commercial Appeal.