*NOTE: The following op-ed was written by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and originally appeared in CNN’s Perspective*
At the ballot box, working people pushed America in a new direction. Two years ago, even two months ago, the idea of a pro-worker control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, and White House was far-fetched. Following the victories of President Joe Biden in November, and Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock three weeks ago in Georgia, that is now America’s governing reality.
Union members were a major reason these victories happened. But we know the value of these wins is in what happens after Election Day. If lawmakers don’t ensure the economy works for working Americans, then what is the point?
Amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline workers are showing the world what heroism looks like. And as we confront the coronavirus with courage, big businesses and corporate executives are profiting from the service and sacrifice of American workers. Billionaires have increased their collective net worth by more than $1 trillion dollars in the past three (3) years. These profits billionaires have seen could cover half the cost of Biden’s bold relief package to rescue our entire nation-over 330 billion people-from financial ruin.
On the verge of bankruptcy, state and local governments are cutting public sector workers from payrolls. The absence of a standard for infectious disease-a set of rules that require employers to protect workers from hazards-means employers can risk workers’ lives with impunity, although Biden’s executive order call for a standard is a good first step. Food and housing insecurity is spreading just like the virus. Throw in the lack of safeguards for equal pay, fair scheduling, and other long-overdue rights, and worker protections in America are among the weakest in the world.
Sure, Trump and McConnell could have secured passage of the HEROES Act to provide relief back in May, but they shot it down. They refused to pass a dire relief package until December-after working people sent them a message with our votes, our power- and even that was a modest package.
In the last Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the U.S. House of Representatives passed the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression by creating a much fairer process of forming a Union. It is called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. After an anti-worker majority blocked it in the Senate, reintroducing the PRO Act, passing it in both chambers of Congress and getting Biden’s signature is vital to our economic recover.
The PRO Act would protect and empower workers to exercise their freedom to organize and bargain. It would make sure that workers can reach a first contract quickly after a Union is recognized, end employers’ practice of hiring permanent replacements to punish striking workers and, finally, hold corporations accountable by strengthening the National Labor Relations Board and allowing it to impose penalties on employers who retaliate against collective bargaining. It would also repeal so-called “right to work” laws, which make it harder for working people to form Unions and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Democrats cannot afford to leave workers out to dry and repeat the missed opportunities of previous administrations and congresses. Workers know that too many Democrat Candidates in the past were quick to cast our checks but failed to act. The PRO Act is a generational opportunity that will transform America’s labor landscape and marshal economic recovery for working people. Unions bargain for higher wages and better health care and help ensure a more secure retirement. For instance, 79% of Union members have access to defined benefit pension plans as opposed to 17% of non-union workers.
The PRO Act is more than labor law reform, it’s also civil rights legislation. We secure contracts that protect workers who must care for a loved one and ensure our workers’ voices are heard as technology evolves. We also defend women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with different abilities from discrimination.
The PRO Act is also an economic stimulus bill. Unions give more of us the collective power to win better pay and safer working conditions, putting additional money in workers’ pockets, driving demand and creating jobs. And research from MIT show nearly half of non-union workers-nearly 60 million people- would vote to join a Union today if given the opportunity.
I was in the meeting where Biden, just days after he was the elected, looked a group of CEOs in the eye and said that in his administration, “union are going to have increased power.” The CEO’s just nodded, completely shocked to hear such a clear pro-worker message directly from an incoming president. Biden, who proudly call himself “a Union guy,” rightfully pointed out that worker power is “no anti-business. It’s about creating economic growth and creating good-paying job.”
I could not agree more, Mr. President. And that why we need to make the PRO Act the law of the land.