House labor committee to mark up major labor overhaul bill, PRO Act

  • September 23, 2019

The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a full committee markup on Wednesday of Democrats’ sweeping legislation to overhaul federal labor laws, a committee aide confirmed to POLITICO.

The “Protecting the Right to Organize Act,” H.R. 2474 (116), would strengthen collective bargaining rights and increase penalties on employers. Notably, the “PRO Act” would allow workers to form a union through “card check” — an informal process that avoids a secret-ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

It would also permit the NLRB to level monetary fines if employers terminate a worker wrongfully or cause a worker to suffer economic harm. Under current law, the NLRB may order reinstatement or collection of back pay, but it can’t level fines.

In addition, the bill would make it easier for independent contractors to establish in court that they are actually employees who have been misclassified.

“There are currently no meaningful penalties for predatory corporations that use unlawful tactics to discourage workers from organizing a union,” Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), said after introducing the legislation earlier this year. “The PRO Act is a comprehensive proposal to ensure that workers have the right to stand together and negotiate for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions.”

The bill also includes two provisions intended to push back against recent Supreme Court decisions.

The legislation would allow employers and unions to agree contractually on collecting fees to help cover the cost of collective bargaining. Last year the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME barred public-sector unions from collecting mandatory fees from non-union employees to cover their share of collective bargaining costs.

The bill also would address the high court’s ruling in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, which upheld employment contract clauses that compel workers to take any legal class actions against a company into private arbitration. It would bar such clauses, guaranteeing workers the right to take class actions against their employers to court.

The card-check provision would overturn a 1947 amendment to the National Labor Relations Act that made card check recognition for unions voluntary for employers. Since then, only secret-ballot elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board have compelled employers to recognize unions.

If a majority of employees vote against joining a union during an election, but the union alleges that the employer interfered in the election, then the NLRB would be required to order the employer to bargain with the union, so long as a majority of employees in the voting unit have signed authorization cards.

The Chamber of Commerce has described the legislation as “perhaps the single biggest threat in this area of the law” for employers since the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have restored card check, was reconsidered in Congress in 2009. An earlier version of that bill failed in the Senate by a narrow margin in 2007.

Last week, Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee hit back, urging their Democratic colleagues to hold a public hearing on the federal embezzlement probe into leaders of the United Auto Workers, arguing that it was “particularly important” as Democrats’ considered marking up the PRO Act.

Reps. Virginia Foxx(R-N.C.) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), who requested the hearing, said the bill was aimed at “significantly increasing the coercive power of labor leaders and decreasing their accountability, risking similar episodes of corruption and wrongdoing in the future.”