Party lines held in the Florida delegation as the U.S. House passed the “Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” on Tuesday night.
The bill, which is backed by big labor and opposed by the business community, cleared the House on a 225-206 vote with five Republicans joining the Democratic majority. The proposal is expected to have problems clearing the U.S. Senate.
The PRO Act would let some independent contractors become union members, undermine right-to-work laws passed by states and weaken employers’ efforts to play a role in union elections.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., weighed in on the bill after it cleared the House on Tuesday night.
“Our economy needs a strong middle class. Unions are essential to rebuilding America’s middle class and improving the lives of workers and their families. When workers have the power to stand together and form a union, they have higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. Protecting workers’ right to organize will help rebuild the middle class and improve the quality of life for workers and their families,” Castor said. “The working men and women of America have been the glue to hold our communities together throughout the coronavirus pandemic. They educate our children during the turmoil of the coronavirus, keep our senior neighbors safe in nursing homes, deliver the mail and important packages so we can stay safe at home, and work safely at construction sites to keep our economy moving.
“So after years of erosion of the rights of workers, the House just passed the most significant upgrade for workers’ ability to band together, improve their working conditions and bargain for their rights in more than 80 years. The past year has seen record job losses while billionaires’ wealth has skyrocketed. Our economy is out of balance with working families being left behind. This is wrong, and the PRO Act is a historic piece of legislation that would help level the playing field, strengthen our democracy and advance dignity in the workplace,” she added.
“The PRO Act is especially critical in states like Florida where our state laws allow so many businesses to harass and even let folks go just for attempting to organize. We know that when workers have the power to form unions, they receive higher wages, better benefits and safer working conditions – we have the makings of a true middle class. The PRO Act ensures that workers can decide for themselves whether to exercise their right to form a union and protect against companies and executives that violate workers’ collective bargaining rights,” Castor continued.
“America was not built by the wealthiest Americans, it was built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class. Unions place power into the hands of workers and give them a stronger, unified voice to increase good-paying jobs and ensure job security, protect against all forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, and safeguard the health, safety and economic security of all workers, union and non-union. I’m glad to join together with my Democratic colleagues to strengthen our middle class and lift up workers, their families, and America’s economy,” Castor said in conclusion.
“The American worker has been the backbone of economic growth and stability, not just during the course of our nation’s history, but when we needed them most during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic,” said U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla. “For over a year now, essential workers in Florida, and across the country have gone in to work at their own risk to keep our economy moving. We owe these workers a debt of gratitude, and that means leveling the playing field. For too long, working families and the American middle class has been left to fend for themselves in the workplace. It’s long past time to strengthen, rebuild, and empower the middle class. The right to unionize and collectively bargain for a better tomorrow is an American value. The PRO Act would restore that promise and build the middle class back better.”
Republicans from the Sunshine State lined up against the proposal.
“While touted as a pro-worker bill, it is really a payoff to unions who contributed more than $200 million to Democrats in the last election cycle,” said U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Fla. “In Florida, companies and employees are not forced into costly union contracts or union dues they don’t want. This legislation would put workers at risk of termination if they decline to pay union dues. Federal law already protects employees’ right to organize, and I respect that right. This bill is just one more example of House Democrats rushing an extreme, sweeping bill directly to the House Floor without any examination or debate in committee, and without gathering needed feedback from the public about its devastating economic consequences.”
Teaming up with Skylar Zander, the Florida director of Americans for Prosperity, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., stressed his opposition to the bill in an op-ed run in the Orlando Sentinel.
“The PRO Act is a partisan grab bag designed to benefit politically connected groups at the expense of many Americans simply trying to provide for themselves and their families,” Steube and Zander wrote.
“The bill would jeopardize and sometimes even outlaw most forms of independent contracting, gig work, freelancing, and franchising under the National Labor Relations Act. It would employ an ‘ABC’ test, a tool regulators have often used to reclassify those with flexible work arrangements, to place them in traditional employment, possibly under union control,” they continued.
“The act would block tens of millions of Americans who work as independent contractors, many of whom operate their own businesses, from earning a living. But some of the bill’s supporters hope that employers will simply place those workers on payroll and then in a union,” they wrote.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.