Updated: Oct 15, 2021
According to an Economic Policy Institute study, while CEO compensation rose by 940% between 1978 and 2018, the typical worker’s compensation only increased by 12%. For far too long, the balance between workers and CEOs has been tilting in the wrong direction. We live in a country where the top 1% of earners are 15 times wealthier than the bottom 50%.
A solution to this issue lies in the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) ACT, which the House of Representatives passed in early March. The act creates penalties for businesses in violation of union laws and prohibits business tactics such as anti-union propaganda and rhetoric used to dissuade workers from organizing. This strengthens government agencies’ ability to punish businesses violating labor laws, closes off independent contracting loopholes, and furterss the rights of workers. It is a necessary step in dismantling the wealth gap in our country, and thus should be passed in the Senate.
In the U.S., unionizing is already legal, and businesses cannot interfere with employee organizing. However, the main problem with current labor legislation is that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a product of the New Deal, does not have the authority to penalize businesses that violate union laws. The PRO Act will give the NLRB the ability to assess companies that reportedly violate their workers’ rights and deal consequences to them as needed.
In Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon workers are trying to unionize in an effort to collectively bargain for more ethical working conditions. However, to dissuade them Amazon has hung anti-union banners in the warehouse, sent anti-union texts to workers, developed an entire anti-union website, and posted anti-union posters in the bathrooms.
Amazon’s fiery opposition demonstrates the dire need for a bill that will give the government the ability to go beyond the condemnation of dissuasion and actually punish businesses interfering with union campaigns. The need for organized labor is likely even more urgent in companies besides Amazon. Whereas Amazon has a company-wide minimum wage of $15, other corporations follow the federally-obligated $7.25 minimum wage per hour
Stronger unions as a result of the passing of the PRO Act could lead to an increase in the federal minimum wage. Although this effect would be indirect, an act that unifies and strengthens labor forces creates a party of empowered workers who can more effectively advocate for a higher minimum wage. The fight for unions and the fight for just wages are closely intertwined, and progress in one movement will pave the way for progress in the other. An Economic Policy Institute found that income inequality rises when union membership drops, and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union members make roughly 19% more than those who aren’t a part of a union. Clearly, collective bargaining and unionizing are effective in persuading change.
The PRO Act could also benefit workers whose employers list them as independent contractors, which can make them ineligible for healthcare and insurance. Even though independent contractors are already allowed to unionize, employers are not currently obligated to provide independents with the benefits that the organized body of workers lobbied for. In other words, by redefining “independent,” the PRO Act would make employee benefits and any gain earned by a union available to independent contractors as well.
Rapid technological advancement and a lack of updated legislation have fostered an environment where billionaires can get away with enforcing inhumane and unrealistic productivity expectations, paying workers wages that are arguably unlivable, and utilizing their evasive power to dissuade their workers from organizing without being condemned or punished. The only reason CEOs have to be anti-union would be if they fear that workers are finally going to be compensated and represented fairly.
The PRO Act is almost certain to be met with total Republican opposition and a filibuster attempt in the Senate, but I urge the Democratic Party to not let the bill’s likely unfortunate outcome allow their commitment for organized labor to waver. I look forward to the day when the U.S. Senate has a majority brave enough to confront unjust dissuasion tactics and enforce genuine legislation protecting the sacred right to unionize.