By Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa
Published in the Detroit News, Sept. 1, 2021
Labor Day is around the corner. But the fight to ensure workers’ rights is ongoing and is one in which hardworking Americans must prevail.
For too long, the needs of American workers have been cast aside by elected officials. Profits pocketed by corporations and their executives in recent years have not reached the wallets of those who showed up on the job daily just trying to earn enough to support their families.
Now there is an opportunity for the U.S. Senate to do something about it. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, approved by the House in March, would restore fairness to the economy at a time when income inequality has stifled the ability of far too many hardworking Americans to earn a decent wage that allows them to make ends meet.
The PRO Act will strengthen the 86-year-old National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) so that workers seeking to organize a union and negotiate higher wages and better benefits will be protected. Workers deserve a safe workplace, the ability to stand together and negotiate better working conditions, and to live a middle-class lifestyle.
Surveys show that workers want unions. However, there is a huge gap between the share of workers with union representation and those that would like to have a union and a voice on the job. So-called right to work is a big reason for that, but the PRO Act would override such state laws that have kept the wages of working Americans down.
The needs of workers have been ignored by too many leaders. COVID-19 has put many on their heels. Meanwhile, the misclassification of workers is on the rise and too many are falling through the cracks. The Teamsters have witnessed such behavior firsthand as workers across the country try to organize with this union.
The nation’s labor laws are inadequate to protect the rights of millions of workers. Under current law, unscrupulous employers, armed with limitless funds, routinely violate the NLRA and block workers’ ability to exercise their right to bargain. The PRO Act would level the playing field and give workers a fair shot when they join together to have a voice in the workplace.
This legislation increases penalties on employers who break the law and gives workers a private right of action if they’ve been terminated for union activity. It prohibits the use of coercive activities like captive audience meetings and establishes a process for mediation and arbitration to stop stalling tactics at the bargaining table and help parties achieve a first contract.
Importantly, the bill addresses rampant intentional misclassification under the NLRA and ensures that misclassified workers are not deprived of their right to form a union. It also would crack down on bad actors by streamlining procedures to grant swift solutions to workers. And it would update the NLRA to make it to apply to today’s 21st century workforce.
Workers demand to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace. They’ve earned that right, given more than 1 million Teamsters and many millions more kept this country running during a pandemic that’s claimed more than 600,000 U.S. lives. This legislation would allow that to happen.
Elected officials, now is the time to prove you are listening. Give people the power they deserve!