Restoring the Right to Unionize

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
February 12, 2019

For nearly a century, the right of workers to unionize for fair pay and working conditions has been a cornerstone of a fair and functional labor market. Established as a way to protect workers from dehumanizing exploitation during the Industrial Revolution, over the decades unions have represented workers in a variety of industries. Unions can ensure that workers are paid fairly, with benefits, and under reasonable working conditions.  Unions give workers a unified voice through collective bargaining, a process of negotiations between employers and employees. When unions are strong, they are able to set wage standards throughout an entire industry. For decades, unions have contributed to a vibrant middle class and have lessened income inequality and narrowed racial and gender wage gaps.

Union membership, however, has been steadily declining. Some estimates show that union membership has decreased by 3 million workers over the past 30 years.  Unfortunately, the decline of unions is not because they are no longer needed but because the fundamental right to unionize has been eroding year after year.  Employers exploit weaknesses in current labor laws to undermine workers’ rights—and face no real consequences for doing so. The result has been stagnant wages, unsafe workplaces, and rising inequality, especially for women and communities of color.

It is time to fully restore the right of our nation’s workers to unionize. Fortunately, the House of Representatives passed a bill last week that ensures that all private sector workers can bargain for just wages and benefits: The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (H.R. 2474 and S. 1306).

The PRO Act encourages workers to unionize and collectively bargain, and it introduces vital protections for workers who choose to do so. Even though it is illegal, there are currently no consequences for employers who retaliate against workers attempting to organize in the workplace. The PRO Act would finally hold those employers financially accountable for illegally retaliating against their employees. The PRO Act also gives workers more freedom to organize and reach an initial agreement with their employers. As the Economic Policy Institute explains, the PRO Act overrides “right to work” state laws by requiring all workers who are covered by—and therefore benefit from—a union to contribute “fair-share fees” to support the cost of collective bargaining efforts.

The PRO Act enables workers to more readily organize by streamlining the process for forming a union, ensuring that new unions are able to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement, and holding employers accountable when they violate workers’ rights.

In order to reverse decades of damage done to our nation’s labor laws, we now call on the Senate to pass strong legislation empowering workers to organize and bargain without fear of retaliation. Passing the PRO Act will help rebuild workplace democracy by ensuring every worker has a voice and will even the power imbalance between employers and workers.