How the PRO Act Would Change the Labor Landscape: A Familiar Example

Sadie Basila, Managing Forum Editor

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) of 2021 would broaden the definition of employee, codify the legality of broad bargaining units, repeal all right-to-work laws, create harsher punishments for employers using unfair labor practices and explicitly legalize many forms of striking. This bill, which passed the House on March 9, 2021, would change the labor organizing landscape to better allow for free and fair union elections, and therefore better working conditions. However, over a year since its passage in the House, the bill has yet to go to vote in the Senate.

The United States is in the middle of a resurgence of labor movements, with large-scale unionization efforts occurring at big corporations like Amazon and Starbucks. Close to home, the Bates Educators and Staff Organization (BESO) advocated for the creation of a union. The Student previously reported on a potential instance of intimidation in the form of a discriminatory application of the anti-solicitation policy and the BESO’s filing of an Unfair Labor Practices Complaint against Bates. Bates’ inappropriate attempt to control the union election narrative with a management-friendly spin became especially personal for me when I received an email in my Bates Gmail inbox correcting the wording of an administration-critical tweet on my personal Twitter account. In addition to this inappropriate expression of disagreement, this staff member’s email also copied my supervisors and accused me of undermining my peers, which I personally interpreted as threatening. It is my belief that based on these instances, the union election at Bates and the speech surrounding it was neither free nor fair.

Intimidating behaviors by managerial staff would probably be far less likely to occur if the PRO Act were passed due to the legislation’s harsher punishments for unfair labor practices. Currently, the consequences for violating labor laws are not heavy enough to de-incentivize those behaviors. Employers who violate the National Labor Relations Act face no civil penalties. Under the PRO Act, they can face civil penalties and “corporate officials can be held personally liable for violation of [labor] law.

Currently, the votes in the union election at Bates have been impounded while the National Labor Relations Board decides how to settle Bates’ appeal, in which the college states that contingent faculty should be excluded from a staff union. The broader definition of employee and clear statement that a bargaining unit is permissible when employees share a community of interest included in the PRO Act would decisively allow for the proposed unit to be approved. 

If the PRO Act had been passed, I believe the circumstances of union elections nationwide would be radically altered for the better. Under the PRO Act, mandatory “informational” meetings would no longer be permitted. These sorts of meetings are often filled with misleading anti-union propaganda. According to an Economic Policy Institute study, captive audience meetings were used by employers in 89% of union elections from 1999-2003. In elections where they were not used, unions won 73% of the time, whereas in elections where they were used, unions won only 47% of the time. 

There are clear broader implications for union efforts across the country, but I have taken specific note of how these changes would affect the union drive that occurred here, and I firmly believe that if the PRO Act had been passed, the votes could have been counted much earlier and the election would have been freer and fairer for all employees, whether or not they choose to unionize.