Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

PRO Act Would Threaten The Freedom of Millions of Independent Contractors

Congress is currently considering the latest iteration of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) — a bill that reads more like a labor union wishlist than a serious piece of legislation. Still, unions are hopeful that a Democrat-controlled Congress and President Biden — who has expressed support for the bill — will finally get the PRO Act across the finish line. But if this happens, it would be a disaster for workers nationwide.

For starters, the bill would override right-to-work laws in 27 states across the country. This means workers would be forced to contribute financially to a union as a condition of their employment. The PRO Act would also allow unions to bypass secret ballot elections in favor of “card checks.” During card checks, workers are persuaded to sign a card that authorizes union representation. Since the system is largely unregulated, it opens workers up to peer pressure, intimidation, and coercion.

Perhaps one of the PRO Act’s most dangerous provisions is its attempt to copy language from California’s misguided AB 5 law. This law has threatened the livelihoods of countless freelancers in the state by reclassifying them as “employees” instead of as “independent contractors.” The PRO Act would seek to do the same on a national scale.

But the success of Prop 22 in California — a recently passed ballot measure that allows certain gig workers to be exempt from AB 5 — proved that voters believe actual workers, not the government, should have control over how they earn a living. Of course, labor unions and their allies fought against Prop 22. Their goal was to preserve the new status quo that made it easier to classify workers as “employees,” making them easier organizing targets.

But gig workers — who by a four to one margin prefer their current status to becoming full-time employees —  won out in the end. Unfortunately, the proposition didn’t apply to thousands of freelancers who work outside the gig economy and who are still struggling to navigate AB 5.

As the country works to recover from the massive job losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, now is not the time to make it more difficult for Americans to earn a living. We can’t afford to repeat California’s mistake by threatening the freedom of millions of independent contractors.

Categories: Gig WorkersPRO Act