The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or “Pro Act,” would make sweeping changes to laws around union organizing, classifications of employees, and the power of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to take action in workplace disputes.
The bill, S. 420, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives 225 to 206 on March 9, and is on hold in the Senate as Democrats, labor groups and community organizations lobby for additional support.
“It’s a piece of legislation that repeals various parts of anti-union, anti-socialist legislation that have been passed over the last 80, 90 years,” said Dan Cutter, an adjunct instructor at Malcom X College and member of the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America (CDSA) Labor Branch .
DSA branches around the country have been pushing the legislation through phone banking, social media, and rallies for weeks in hopes of pulling together enough support to move the legislation through the Senate.
Under current law, employers have leeway to draw out union elections through litigation and push anti-union messages on employees in processes like captive audience meetings and internal marketing.
Employees are barred from bringing civil lawsuits against employers in cases of employer misconduct or retaliation, and groups of workers are also barred from actions like secondary boycotts, intermittent strikes and worker slow-downs.
The Pro Act would set stricter rules for employers guiding union elections, opens employers’ liability in civil court and reverses many rules concerning strikes and direct action by workers.
Republican lawmakers have criticized multiple points of the Pro Act but have placed special attention on rules that set additional guidelines for classifying workers as employees versus independent contractors.
“Among other things, this bill makes it harder for independent workers to work legally,”Erin O’Malley, communications director for Illinois District 15 Representative Mary Miller, said in an emailed statement. “Congresswoman Miller has seven children and understands that for many mothers, flexible work opportunities are their lifeline.”
All of the Illinois Republican House members voted against the bill, and all of the Democrat House members voted in favor.
The Pro Act would implement an “ABC test” which would require workers be classified as employees unless they meet three stipulations:
(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.”
Cutter said the rule is not there to prevent independent contractors from working, but to prevent employers from misclassifying workers who perform companies’ primary functions as independent contractors, especially companies that operate through apps or with primarily temp workers.
“The type of people who write six op-ed pieces in the New York Times, The New Yorker and The Atlantic every year are the people who deeply still just want this,” Cutter said. “I think it is almost a psychological thing of, ‘i’m not a worker, i’m not an employee, i’m a freelancer’.”
The bill has 45 sponsors in the Senate, including Illinois senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, but won’t be brought up for a vote by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer without 50 sponsors, according to The Intercept.
The remaining Democrat holdouts in the senate are Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, and Joe Manchin and Mark Warner of West Virginia.
The bill received support from five House Republicans, including John Katko of New York, Jeff Van Drew and Chris Smith of New Jersey, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Don Young of Alaska.
Staff reporter Jason Flynn can be reached at email@example.com, by phone at 872-222-7821 or on Twitter at @dejasonflynn. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.