The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, is a proposed United States law that would amend previous labor laws such as the National Labor Relations Act, for the purpose of expanding labor protections related to employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace. It would prevent employers from holding mandatory meetings for the purpose of counteracting labor organization, and it would strengthen the legal right of employees to join a labor union. The PRO Act would weaken “right-to-work” laws, which exist in 27 U.S. states. It would allow the National Labor Relations Board to fine employers for violations of labor law and would provide compensation to employees involved in such cases.
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, also known as the PRO Act, follows a series of past legislation passed by Congress concerning labor rights. A number of landmark bills were passed during the New Deal period, including the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt considered one of the most important Acts of Congress at the time.
Following the New Deal, a number of bills were passed which restricted the activities of labor unions. Among these was the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (commonly known as the Taft-Hartley Act), which among other things prohibited secondary boycotts and closed shops.
In 2009, the Employee Free Choice Act, another bill which would have amended the National Labor Relations Act, failed to pass.
In the State of California, following the passage of California Assembly Bill 5, Proposition 22 was passed in 2020. Proposition 22 was intended to classify so-called gig workers for app-based companies (such as Lyft, Uber, DoorDash and Postmates) as “independent contractors” rather than full employees.
Content of the PRO Act
The PRO Act would amend the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (also known as the Wagner Act), the Taft-Hartley Act, and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (also known as the Landrum–Griffin Act).
According to the summary text of the PRO Act, it revises definitions under labor law, permits labor unions to encourage participation in secondary strikes, and prohibits employers from litigating against unions which conduct such secondary strikes:
Among other things, it (1) revises the definitions of employee, supervisor, and employer to broaden the scope of individuals covered by the fair labor standards; (2) permits labor organizations to encourage participation of union members in strikes initiated by employees represented by a different labor organization (i.e., secondary strikes); and (3) prohibits employers from bringing claims against unions that conduct such secondary strikes.
The PRO Act would prevent employees seeking to join a labor union from being fired. It would also allow unions to override “right-to-work laws”, allowing labor unions to collect dues from all employees in a workplace, regardless of whether or not they are a member of a labor union. Right-to-work laws exist in 27 U.S. states, and the PRO Act would weaken these laws in favor of workers. It would also make illegal company-sponsored mandatory meetings used to counteract and discourage attempts at labor organization. The PRO Act would classify some workers who are classified now as “independent contractors”, instead as “employees”. The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act to define an employee as:
“An individual performing any service shall be considered an employee (except as provided in the previous sentence) and not an independent contractor, unless—
(A) the individual is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the service, both under the contract for the performance of service and in fact;
(B) the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer; and
(C) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed.”
This definitional amendment would allow for certain workers, such as those working in the gig economy, to attain the right to form a labor union or to bargain collectively. This would potentially include those who work for app-based companies such as Uber, DoorDash, or Lyft, and overall could include hundreds of thousands or millions of workers. The bill would allow for workers to sue employers and would make it easier for employees to join a union.
Support for the PRO Act
A letter signed by over 100 labor unions, advocacy organizations, churches, and political groups supported the PRO Act. This included but not limited to the AFL-CIO, EPI, Public Citizen, AFT, Sunrise Movement, CPD, SEIU, PFAW, CWA, FoEI, HRW, USW, IWPR, GBCS, IFPTE, NETWORK, Patriotic Millionaires, and Oxfam. Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO said, “If you really want to correct inequality in this country … passing the PRO Act is absolutely essential to doing that.” The bill has received backing from the Labor Caucus and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Joe Biden endorsed the PRO Act, and has called labor law reform one of the top priorities of his administration.
On February 4, 2021, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA-03) introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. Of the bill’s 213 cosponsors, 3 – Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), and Chris Smith (NJ-04) – were Republicans; the other 210 were Democrats.
The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 225 to 206 on March 9, 2021. Five House Republicans (Brian Fitzpatrick, John Katko, Chris Smith, Jeff Van Drew, and Don Young) joined the House Democrats in voting for it, while one Democrat (Henry Cuellar) voted against it. The bill now advances to the U.S. Senate; however, the bill is unlikely to pass as it would require universal Democratic support and 10 Republican crossover votes to pass in case of a filibuster.