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Pro/Con: Essential workers especially need PRO Act's protections

From the column: "We (with the Duluth Central Labor Body) applaud Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith for co-sponsoring the PRO Act."

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Labor-law reform is urgently needed in our country. The Duluth Central Labor Body fully supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. We congratulate the U.S. House of Representatives for passing this monumental legislation Tuesday.

Our Republican 8th Congressional District Rep. Pete Stauber voted against the PRO Act. The Legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate for consideration. We applaud Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith for co-sponsoring the PRO Act.

Eighty-six years ago, the National Labor Relations Act was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The law, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1937, guaranteed workers the “right to self-organization; to form, join, or assist (in) labor organization (and) to bargain collectively through representation of their own choosing.”

For many years, the law was transformative for all workers in the U.S. Unions built the middle class in America. Here in Northeastern Minnesota, we are proud of our strong union history, which has lifted all workers up.

Over time, the National Labor Relations Act has been eroded. As a result, income inequality is greater than it's been since the Great Depression. The inequality of income and power has had devastating consequences for American workers and American democracy.

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Decades of unprecedented attacks by policymakers, lobbyists, and CEOs have undermined the basic human rights of workers to organize. Under current law, the penalties against employers who illegally fire or retaliate against workers trying to form a union are minimal or non-existent. As a result, employers routinely retaliate against pro-union workers.

Employee interference and influence in union elections would be forbidden with the passage of the PRO Act. Companies often use mandatory meetings to lobby hard against union-organizing drives. These tactics, along with other intimidation factors, would be illegal.

Employees would also be able to cast a ballot in union-organizing elections at a location away from company property.

For the first time in modern history, we have the chance to turn things around for labor. The PRO Act would hold employers accountable and institute civil penalties for violating the law, including back pay and damages.

In 2020, American heroes in grocery stores, the U.S. Postal Service, hospitals, meat-packing plants, and in other places became known as essential workers, and many risked their lives by going to work in unsafe conditions. As the coronavirus crisis continues into 2021 and deadly workplace risks remain, there has never been a more important time to give workers more voice and power.

The PRO Act would put the decision of whether or not to form a union back where it belongs: in the hands of workers, free from employer interference.

Beth McCuskey is president of the Duluth Central Labor Body. She wrote this at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page.


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OVERHEARD

“The US House of Representatives just took a major step toward leveling the playing field for working people by passing the PRO Act.

“(Wednesday’s) vote was an opportunity for members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation to unequivocally show whether they stand with the working people of our state. We thank Reps. (Angie) Craig, (Betty) McCollum, (Ilhan) Omar, and (Dean) Phillips for their support in passing legislation that will remove the barriers workers face to joining together in unions to negotiate a fair return on their work. We’re also deeply disappointed with Reps. (Tom) Emmer, (Michelle) Fischbach, (Jim) Hagedorn, and (Pete) Stauber for siding with the large corporate interests who are opposing the PRO Act.

“As the legislation heads to the Senate, where both Sens. (Amy) Klobuchar and (Tina) Smith have signed on as cosponsors, we urge senators to send the PRO Act to President Biden’s desk as soon as possible.”

— Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy in a public statement Wednesday after the U.S. House’s 220-205 vote to pass the Protecting the Right to Organizing Act, or PRO Act

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Beth McCuskey

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