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Employee Rights Act puts workers at the center of labor law

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Imagine that an employer wants to award a spot bonus to a high-performing employee but isn’t allowed to. Or that an employee who deserves a raise for working hard learns that such increases are prohibited. Scenarios such as these expose the many downsides of the outdated model of collective bargaining, which sets not only a floor but also a ceiling for wages.  

And they’re just one example of the barriers that the new Employee Rights Act of 2022 would eliminate. 

Sponsored by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the bill aims to remove limitations and bolster protections for American workers. It modernizes labor laws to reward hard work and safeguard employees’ rights at the workplace. It recognizes the needs of today’s gig workers and supports small business owners who launch a franchise. And it reinforces commonsense democratic ideals, such as a private vote on who represents workers on the job.

First introduced more than a decade ago, the revamped bill emerged in response to Democrats’ Protecting Workers’ Right to Organize, or PRO Act. For a sense of how the two rival bills measure up, consider the following.  

The Employee Rights Act would guarantee workers a secret-ballot election when a union tries to organize them. The PRO Act, on the other hand, would allow election results to be thrown out by unelected members of a federal labor board and instead be organized via card check, a petition process marred by union intimidation.

The Employee Rights Act would allow benefits for the country’s growing community of gig workers. The PRO Act, however, would make working for yourself more difficult. The bill would adopt criteria used in California that define most independent workers as employees, mainly so unions can try to organize them. 

And the Employee Rights Act would put some much-needed protections in place for employees and job creators. It would close a legal loophole that exempts some union threats of violence from federal racketeering laws. It would also protect workers’ privacy by allowing employees to opt out of sharing personal information with their union. But the PRO Act? It would continue the one-size-fits-all approach to collective bargaining, which is more befitting the Industrial Revolution than the 21st century. It would give unions more of employees’ personal information — with no way for workers to opt out.

The greatest distinction between the two pieces of legislation, however, is one you won’t find written in the bill text. The Employee Rights Act doesn’t see union membership and employee freedom as an either/or proposition. The PRO Act does.

The Employee Rights Act keeps workers’ options open. It just insists that they be allowed to exercise those options in a fair, democratic manner. 

Should an employee join and pay a union? If he wants to. Should a specific union represent a given workplace? If the majority of workers want it to. Should employees’ dues be used to support union politics? If the individual worker has a choice and wants it that way.

The PRO Act, however, would eliminate right-to-work laws in 27 states, allowing unions to get workers fired for not paying union fees.

The Employee Rights Act envisions workplaces where employees don’t have to choose between having a voice and having a union card. As Sen. Scott describes it, the bill “looks to the future.”

That’s why unions that prioritize their workers can embrace the Employee Rights Act, knowing that the bill will protect employees and make labor laws fairer.

And employees themselves can rest assured the Employee Rights Act will safeguard their freedoms, privacy and workplace rights. It will foster a workplace where, if their performance justifies a spot bonus or a merit raise, their employer has the freedom to do the right thing: reward and incentivize hard work.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is president of the Institute for the American Worker and senior labor policy adviser for Workers for Opportunity. Follow him on Twitter @vinnievernuccio.


Tags Collective bargaining Employee Rights Act Gig worker Labor Labor relations Tim Scott

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