The House on Tuesday passed legislation that would reform labor laws and give workers more power to organize after decades of setbacks to unions.
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, also known as the PRO Act, was previously passed by the House in early 2020 but the Senate, then under Republican control, failed to take it up. The House passed it again Tuesday with a vote of 225-206, largely along party lines.
It now goes to the Senate where Republicans are heavily opposed. President Biden supports the PRO Act.
Eric Brooks of Oak Creek works for Americans For Prosperity and has been following this issue closely. I asked him to write a guest blog.
The PRO Act: The “Worker’s Rights” Legislation That Would Fire Millions of Workers
By Eric Brooks
We are approaching the one year anniversary of the initial shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the healthcare scare that the pandemic brought, Americans were also faced with the challenges of school closures, economic insecurity, and skyrocketing unemployment and job losses. The pandemic forced people to get creative to navigate this financial uncertainty, seeking out freelance opportunities and the ability to independently contract in order to be afforded the freedom and flexibility to work at their own convenience. Now, as the virus is being combatted and we near a return to normalcy, Congress is proposing a bill that would undermine those employees and lead to more joblessness with the stroke of a pen.
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (commonly referred to as the PRO Act) claims to “restore fairness to the economy” and improve worker’s rights (House Committee on Education and Labor). This couldn’t be further from the truth, as the bill’s sole purpose is to empower unions, not workers.
What does the PRO Act Do?
The most significant component of this legislation is that it would end independent contracting and freelance work as we know it. The bill would force businesses to reclassify independent contractors as full time employees, regardless of whether or not the employee wants that to happen. Supporters of this legislation argue that this would increase access to healthcare benefits and improve work conditions, as bringing these workers on full time would require employers to provide them health insurance. While this may sound great on paper, it will be disastrous in practice.
Consider a company like Uber, whose more than 2 million drivers are all independently contracted. Rideshare programs like Uber revolutionized the transportation industry with their innovation—an app based ride-hailing service that eventually expanded into food delivery and package delivery that is praised for its convenience to both users and employees. The majority of people who drive for Uber do so as a part time gig to make some money on the side, but under the PRO Act Uber would have to contract them as full time employees and pay them full benefits. For the drivers, this would infringe on their freedom to work independently and at their own pace which is one of the most appealing aspects of the job. For Uber, they would not be able to afford to bring millions of part time employees on full time. This would lead to massive layoffs or, most likely, the collapse of Uber as a whole (The PRO Act is modeled after California’s controversial AB5, which nearly destroyed the rideshare industry in that state).
The other significant thing that the PRO Act does is it overturns state Right to Work laws, which gave workers the right to choose whether or not they want to join a union. In Wisconsin, our Governor’s budget already calls for rolling back our state’s Right To Work law, but if the bill passes the senate he wouldn’t need to—the federal government would be able to dictate to the states that their Right To Work laws that are already in place would be reversed. This is a blatant violation of the 10th Amendment, and is yet another attack on worker’s rights as it would remove their ability to choose to join a union while opening them up to harassment from union members, using a process known as card checking.
Who would be affected by the PRO Act?
There are more than 10.6 million independent contractors in the United States (Bureau of Labor). Anyone who files a 1099 would be impacted by this legislation. Some specific jobs/industries that would be harmed by the PRO Act include:
- Rideshare programs like Uber/Lyft
- Delivery services such as DoorDash/Grubhub
- Freelance journalists
- Part time photographers
- Nanny services
- Artisans who sell their crafts on websites such as Etsy
- Private yoga instructors/personal trainers
- Content streamers with monetized accounts on YouTube or Twitch
Women in the workforce would especially be harmed by this bill. During the COVID-19 pandemic, women were disproportionately forced out of the workplace in order to assume the burden of virtual learning or caregiving for elderly relatives. Before the pandemic, women made up roughly 46% of the workforce yet they accounted for 54% of the jobs lost during COVID (Harvard Business Review, 2020). This disparity would only widen with the passage of the PRO Act.
Many women have taken advantage of the freedom and flexibility that being an independent contractor and being your own boss provides. In fact, a growing number of freelance workers are women. I have a friend who makes a living selling custom jewelry online as a way to help pay for college. Currently, she sells her products across multiple online vendors—under the PRO Act, all of those vendors would have to have her on staff and they would be required to provide benefits as well as reflecting this employment on their payroll forms (which would impact the amount they pay in payroll tax). These vendors would likely just cut ties with their designers altogether. And while this is just one example, this would become the common practice for many industries who rely on independent contracting.
What can we do about it?
People love freedom, and they deserve to have that freedom in their work lives. For many people who pursue freelance employment they simply enjoy the flexibility of picking their hours, being able to work at their own pace, and having the ability to bring in some extra cash for their family. For others, they view it as a risk-free opportunity to pursue a passion with the hopes of potentially turning that into their profession down the line.
My organization, Americans For Prosperity, has been leading the fight against the PRO Act (and other harmful policies at the state and federal level) from the beginning because we value innovation, freedom, and empowering individuals. While this legislation unfortunately passed the House, it will need to get 60 votes to pass the Senate. What we can do is take the time to contact our elected officials and tell them to oppose this bill. A simple way to do this is to visit VoteNoPro.com and sign the petition, which automatically sends a letter to your Congressman and Senators. Let Senator Baldwin know how harmful this legislation is. Additionally, take the time to thank your elected officials who voted AGAINST this bill—it’s important for them to know that we have their backs during these fights. It’s easy right now for us to feel like our voices aren’t being heard by leaders in Madison and Washington, but our voices will never be heard if we stay silent.
Grassroots Engagement Director for Americans For Prosperity