Labor Watch

PRO Act Just Gives Unions More Power

In a State of the Union speech that many commentators noted was starkly partisan and histrionic in tone, President Joe Biden laid out a left-wing agenda of tax hikes, environmentalist mandates, and new federal spending. Many will comment on those big agenda items, but lurking in the laundry-list of left-wing activist-group gifts was another very bad idea: the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

Zombie Legislation

This zombie legislative is back from the dead and is little more than a labor union–backed mandate to force Americans to pay unions—which are in many ways just liberal advocacy organizations including on non-economic matters—their own hard-earned real American dollars for the privilege of making a living.

In addition to explicitly forcing Americans to pay liberal advocacy organizations real American dollars for the privilege of making a living by overriding all state right-to-work laws, the PRO Act would take away workers’ power to make a living without a formal employment relationship (including a union to which they would be forced to pay dues). It would take away prospective small-business owners’ path to advance up the economic ladder by keeping them in the fixed, supposedly oppressed, “working class” that unions purport to represent whether individuals want it or not. And the PRO Act would give Big Labor the power to wage widespread Media Matters-style “secondary boycotts” against any businesses with which they have an economic or non-economic dispute.

The PRO Act would take California’s restrictions on independent contracting nationwide, limiting the practice of people working for themselves to gain additional flexibility over work hours, working conditions, and control over their own work. Labor unions hate independent contracting because prevailing labor law does not give unions the power to mandate bargaining or force fee payments by workers classified as independent contractors. Worse still, many independent workers consider themselves their own bosses which is ideologically problematic for a movement that relies on the old “working class/capitalist class” dichotomy for its self-conception.

Biden Rules

The Biden administration has already issued a rule that would restrict independent contracting. The PRO Act would make those rules even more union-friendly and employment-unfriendly. According to a Mercatus Center working paper, California’s Assembly Bill 5, the legislation that served as the model for the PRO Act’s contracting rule, led to a decline in overall employment.

Like its independent contracting rules, the PRO Act changes the definition of “joint employer” to make the local small-business owners who own and operate chain business locations essentially middle managers under the chain’s parent company by making the parent company jointly liable for day-to-day labor relations. It’s a technical change, but an important one; small-business operators face losing their American Dreams and even their livelihoods.

For institutional labor unions, it makes union organizing easier through the “corporate campaign” pressure tactics of unions like the SEIU. For leftist ideologues, this moves would-be business owners—those decadent capitalist pigs who might turn into conservatives—back into the unwashed proletariat that needs ideological leftists to lead it. And for partisan Democrats, it’s a reward to the SEIU, which OpenSecrets reports provided 99.97 percent of funds tracked by party to Democrats in the 2022 midterms, at the expense of small-business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business, which went 97.39 percent Republican.

Secondary Boycotts

But the PRO Act’s worst policy isn’t its expansion of forced unionism or its restrictions on work arrangements not intermediated by a highly partisan Democratic and ideologically liberal labor union. It is the legalization of “secondary boycotts,” which risks turning labor unions into Media Matters-like activist factions that can shut down businesses over trivial ideological slights. Except these activist factions will be fueled by conscripted revenue and conscripted members rather than volunteers fighting their preferred ideological wars.

Since 1947, when the Taft-Hartley Act enacted regulations on union behavior after an economy-crippling postwar strike wave, Big Labor has sought to regain the power to wage economic war against customers of businesses with which they have disputes. This tactic is the Left’s ultimate economic weapon where leftist institutions (like Media Matters) can use it to inflict pain on their real targets by targeting “softer” third parties, especially in non-economic matters. The economic and ideological consequences to such a policy change would be dire.

Big Labor bosses who desire more resources and power (often in order to steal them or direct them to radical political agendas) hope the PRO Act will complete an 80-year campaign to make America more like Europe, with the strikes, economic sclerosis, and socialist planning for which that continent is known. With the PRO Act having powerful allies in the White House and Congress, it’s time for opponents of Big Labor to take note.

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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