Construction officials speak out against the PRO Act

By Jenny LescohierFebruary 05, 2021

Some business leaders are speaking out against the reintroduction of the PRO Act

House Democrats have reintroduced the PRO Act, a sweeping labor rights bill proponents see as a means to create safer workplaces and boost employee benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act is a measure designed to promote union organizing and was approved by the House in February 2020. If it becomes law, the legislation would allow the National Labor Relations Board to levy fines against employers who violate workers’ rights, give employees more power to participate in strikes, weaken ‘right to work’ laws, and offer certain independent contractors the protections held by employees.

Republican lawmakers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have argued the plan would be a wet blanket on the struggling economy, making it doubtful Democrats will win the 10 GOP votes needed to push it through the Senate. Regardless, the bill highlights Democrats’ push to strengthen labor unions after years of eroding membership.

Michael Bellaman, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), has been vocal in his opposition to the legislation and how it might affect construction businesses. 

“Unfortunately, congressional Democrats reintroduced the Protecting the Right to Organize Act at the urging of the union lobbyists who helped get them elected,” he stated. “The PRO Act would radically change the employment and contracting landscape for 7.4 million essential construction workers trying to rebuild our economy and cost small businesses - and ultimately taxpayers - a fortune.

“Under this legislation, the 87% of construction workers who choose not to join a union could be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The PRO Act would overturn the voice of the voters in 27 right-to-work states and wipe out employee privacy rights during unionization drives,” Bellaman said.

“This undemocratic bill would strip workers of entrepreneurial opportunities to freelance as independent contractors, denying them the freedom to earn a living on their own terms and pursue the American dream. The PRO Act would do anything but ‘Build Back Better.’

Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) issued a statement also opposing the legislation. “We view this measure as a significant threat to the viability of the commercial construction industry, its long history of offering advancement and opportunity to all workers and its ability to rebuild our economy and revive our nation.

“By allowing secondary boycotts and other actions against firms that are not directly involved in labor disputes, the measure means many workers could be idled for a dispute where they do not stand to benefit. This would also put union construction firms at a competitive disadvantage, as owners seek firms less likely to be impacted by unrelated labor disputes.”

Sandherr continued, “The measure also makes it extremely difficult for entrepreneurial workers to establish their own businesses by discriminating against independent contractors. These provisions will undermine many working people’s ambitions to establish their own firms and become self-employed.

“The measure also harms the tens of thousands of construction firms that choose to hire union workers. That is because the PRO Act undermines the collective bargaining process that has worked to successfully elevate construction workers into the upper ranks of the middle class for the past half century.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also voiced opposition. “It’s disappointing to see members of Congress reintroduce this harmful piece of legislation,” Senior Vice President of the Employment Policy Division, Glenn Spencer, said in a statement.  “This legislation strips workers of their privacy, threatens private ballots, imposes California’s disastrous independent contractor test, jeopardizes employers’ right to free speech, and threatens the loss of a job should workers choose not to pay union dues. This bill is a threat to America’s workers, employers, and our economy.”

House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott, D-Va., was quoted as saying the bill would help essential workers secure higher wages and paid leave as the Covid-19 virus spreads.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need for Congress to protect and strengthen workers’ rights,” he said in a statement. “Over the past year, workers across the country have been forced to work in unsafe conditions for insufficient pay, because they lacked the ability to stand together and negotiate with their employer.”

If enacted, the PRO Act would arguably be the most significant piece of labor legislation since the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935. It would dramatically alter federal labor law by repealing much of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 amendments and codifying many pro-union provisions that would disadvantage companies.

Whether the PRO Act will pass Congress remains in question. Democrats have control of both houses, but according to the National Law Review, a Democrat-controlled Congress fell short in a similar attempt at a labor law reform in 2009 by failing to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Regardless, employers can expect more pro-union changes under the Biden administration.

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