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PRO Act is ill-conceived and ill-timed

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President Joe Biden recently declared that “every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union.” Indeed, the freedom of association — and the freedom to refrain — are fundamental liberties, which make it even more concerning that the House of Representatives voted last week to abolish that choice by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

Americans can see the light at the end of the tunnel. After 12 long months, the rate of new COVID-19 infections is falling, vaccine distribution has increased, and state and local decisionmakers are beginning to roll back restrictions on the economy. At this point, any reasonable observer might assume that Congress would be focused on solutions to end the pandemic and get people back to work.

But Congress is not reasonable.

Rather than make it easier to get back to work, the majority bypassed the legislative process to ram through another partisan bill — this time, one that would impose billions of dollars in costs on small businesses and deprive workers of basic rights and choices. The PRO Act is one of the most economically damaging bills ever considered by Congress, and the House rushed it through as we attempt to recover from a once-in-a-generation economic crisis.

The PRO Act would upend more than 70 years of established law to achieve its singular goal of tilting the playing field in favor of union organizers, against workers, employers, and the economy as a whole. It would do so by making dozens of significant changes, including banning right-to-work. Right-to-work is the law in 27 states, allowing workers to decide for themselves whether to join and pay a union, and creates a significant economic advantage including greater employment growth and higher cost-of-living adjusted income. The PRO Act would force tens of millions of workers to pay for union representation they do not want or need.

Additionally, the PRO Act would codify the so-called “ABC” test to narrow independent contracting, overnight threatening the livelihoods of tens of millions of freelancers who enjoy their flexibility by reclassifying them as “employees,” subjecting them to collective bargaining and all the rigidity and costs that a union brings. This same language was codified in California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 5 and eliminated the careers of tens of thousands of workers. The PRO Act would do the same nationwide amid a pandemic during which millions have relied on the entrepreneurial opportunity that independent contracting allows.

Moreover, the PRO Act would levy costly fines on businesses if they so much as accidentally misinterpret the ABC test. A small business and its owner could each be hit with a fine of as much as $100,000 — more than enough to shut down a mom-and-pop shop and bankrupt a small business owner.

The PRO Act goes even further to assault workers’ rights. It would force employers to provide union organizers with employees’ personal information including home addresses, cellphone numbers, and personal email addresses, all without employee consent. Under certain circumstances, employees could also be deprived of the right to vote on unionization in a secret ballot election, and instead be forced to declare their vote publicly in front of a union organizer. Secret ballots protect our freedom of conscience when we determine our representation in government. The PRO Act would deprive that same freedom of conscience for employees determining representation at work.

Last Congress, the issues in the PRO Act were given three different hearings in the House Education and Labor Committee, and the panel considered 36 amendments to the bill. It was at a committee hearing that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka shockingly declared that unions need workers’ private information to confront them “at their home” and “at the grocery store.” And it was in the committee markup that we were able to see where members stood on more than two dozen individual issues within the PRO Act, a level of information possible only through committee action.

Today there are more than 60 new members of the House of Representatives and more than 20 new members of the Education and Labor Committee who were not part of those hearings. Yet, this bill won’t be subject to the robust examination, debate, and amendment process the committee allows for because House leadership opted to bypass the traditional legislative process and rush it straight to the House floor.

The PRO Act would deprive workers of basic First Amendment rights, impose tens of billions of dollars in additional costs on small businesses, and do indelible harm to our economic recovery at a time we can least afford it. The American people deserve to know what’s in this radical bill, and it is imperative that the Senate block it from going any further.

Akash Chougule is a senior advisor to Americans for Prosperity and a former professional staff member on the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee.

Tags Joe Biden PRO Act

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