Holding ground on the PRO Act

MADISON, May 12, 2021 — John Mielke, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, issued the following editorial letter to various Wisconsin newspapers regarding the PRO Act and other legislation expected from the Biden Administration:

By now, most everyone in the construction industry has heard about the PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize) being considered in Congress, but most others are unaware of its immense impacts. If the PRO Act becomes law, it will result in dramatic changes to our labor laws across all industries.  

This political payback to organized labor for supporting Congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden is a wish list of many union initiatives that lacked congressional support or were rejected by the courts over many decades. And unfortunately, it has a chance of becoming the law of the land this year.  

The PRO Act is an attempt to stack the deck in favor of organized labor. Workers are free to join or form unions, but membership has been on a consistent decline. In Wisconsin, union membership has declined from nearly 44% in 1983 to 22% last year. Therefore, labor leaders are hopeful that Congress and the president will “put a thumb on the scale” to grow dues-paying member numbers from a field of workers who choose not to belong to unions. This is something unions have been unable to do on their own.    

The PRO Act would essentially overhaul the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), instituting the most changes to the NLRA since the Taft-Hartley Act restricted union power in 1947. The bill has no regard for employers – whether union or non-union – most workers, consumers or the economy, which will all be affected by these numerous fundamental changes to our country’s labor laws.   

If the PRO Act becomes law, it will:   

  • Effectively invalidate state “right-to-work” laws affecting 27 states, including Wisconsin.  
  • Interfere with the ability of employers to secure labor relations advice on issues.  
  • Limit the ability of employers to contest union election petitions and allow unions to engage in coercive tactics long held to be unlawful.  
  • Force employers to provide unions with electronic employee lists within two days after the NLRB directs an election.  
  • Allow for card checks to be used when employers are accused of interfering with elections, which removes the workers’ rights to secret ballot (and places a burden of proof on the employer).  
  • Legalize secondary strikes and boycotts, which can shut down construction sites, manufacturing and distribution channels, disrupting supply chains.  
  • Redefine the definition of “supervisor” to include more frontline leaders as “employees” covered by the NLRA.  
  • Broaden the definition of “employee,” making it difficult for workers to be classified as independent contractors.  
  • Make it illegal to permanently replace striking workers.  
  • Expand fines and penalties associated with unfair labor practices and, in some cases, impose personal liability on company officers and directors.  

As expected, the measure quickly passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 9 and faces a much tougher road in the U.S. Senate, where the filibuster, and its 60-vote threshold, is expected to be utilized by Republicans to block passage. We don’t expect much movement by either side, and the filibuster will have to remain intact to defeat the PRO Act.   

The push by union leaders to realize these powerful advantages is relentless. They understand if they can’t get the PRO Act passed now – with control of the House and Senate and a president who has promised to be the strongest labor president in our nation’s history – then when should they expect it? As such, union leaders are advocating ending the filibuster and have even reportedly threatened to withhold 2022 support of Democratic Party candidates if they don’t get this legislation passed.  

While most business leaders are hopeful the PRO Act can be defeated, it is only the first of many battles to come. If the measure is blocked, you can expect various parts of it, such as ending right-to-work, to be included in infrastructure legislation or be introduced as separate pieces of legislation, which could make their way onto the president’s desk.  

This won’t be the only effort by government to help organized labor reverse the slide. The White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, designed to help workers unionize, is an effort by the administration to use federal agencies to increase union density. The president could also attempt to use annual federal contracting dollars to advantage certain firms by requiring the work to be awarded only to union firms.      

We have only seen the beginning of an attempt to erode the open market principles employers and workers appreciate. This is happening recklessly without concern about the long-term consequences it will have on the economy and workers’ rights. It’s in all our best interests to implore the Biden Administration and Congress to slow down on any efforts that pick winners and losers in the marketplace. 

John Mielke is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, a construction trade association representing more than 900 firms in Wisconsin. ABC actively promotes merit – or performance-based – construction and is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise. 

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