By: Eli Rosenberg
Source: The Washington Post
Business Congress’s most ambitious attempt to strengthen unions in years is set for a House vote next week
Although the bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Senate, it comes amid a growing conversation about workers’ rights. Strikes have surged to a level not seen since the 1980s, and 2020 candidates have rushed to picket lines to show their support for working people. The bill comes at a time when California is grappling with a new law that gives more rights to contracted workers.
The bill addresses what Democrats, union organizers and labor advocates say are fundamental weaknesses with the U.S. labor law. Republicans have argued strongly against it, saying that it will erode worker privacy and strengthen union power.
The bill would create penalties for employers that violate federal labor law by retaliating against workers who are trying to unionize. Currently, no such penalties exist. Economists and labor law experts say that this means companies have few disincentives for breaking the law. About 40 percent of companies whose workers vote to unionize are charged with violating federal law during union campaigns, according to federal data obtained by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
The bill would also weigh in on the debate of who gets to be classified as a contractor or an employee. Studies over the past 30 years have estimated that hundreds of thousands to millions of workers are misclassified as contractors when they should be employees, an issue that has become the subject of intense debate in blue states like California.
The bill would change who qualifies as an employee vs. an independent contractor, but the change would apply only to workers seeking to organize or join a union. This move in particular could potentially pave the way for gig workers at companies like Lyft, Uber and DoorDash to organize with unions, if they are found to meet the bill’s new definition for employees.
The bill also prevents employers from permanently replacing strikers and allows workers to bring private lawsuits for violations of the National Labor Relations Act.
The bill would also weaken right-to-work laws passed in predominantly red states. Right now, many employees in right-to-work states don’t have to pay union fees to be represented by the union. The bill would change that by allowing unions to force workers at companies that have unions to pay union fees.
The bill has drawn sharp opposition from business and industry groups, hundreds of which have joined forces to lobby against it, saying it could threaten small businesses, curb work opportunities for gig workers, and make it harder for businesses to get legal advice on labor law. The group formed to oppose the bill, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, has also pointed to a provision that requires employers to provide a list of their employees’ information, including jobs, shift information, cellphone number and address, to union leadership as an NLRB-sanctioned election nears.
Spencer said that the bill’s move to require employers to turn over their employees’ information is particularly concerning.
The bill passed the labor committee in September, but was put on hold until early January, when 76 Democratic members of the House sent a letter to House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), urging them to bring the bill up for a vote. The letter’s signatories included freshman lawmakers who had flipped red districts in 2018, like Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.); long-standing members of the house like Tim Ryan (D-Ohio); and members of the Progressive Caucus like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass).
The vote is scheduled for next week.
The Republicans who co-sponsored the bill, Reps. Jeff Van Drew and Christopher H. Smith, both of New Jersey, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), did not respond to requests for comment.
The bill has 218 sponsors — the exact number of votes needed to pass a bill in the House. But it is unlikely to pass in the GOP-controlled Senate. The staff of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in a statement that his committee would not be considering the legislation this session.
Next Article Previous Article