by Edward Ring
The consequences of Democratic control of Congress and the White House are just beginning to be felt, as one of the most disruptive pieces of legislation in American history quietly moves from the House of Representatives to the Senate, where only a successful filibuster may prevent its passage. H.R. 842, also known as the Protect the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) goes a long way towards completing America’s transition into a corporate oligarchy. Because it will also make the elite captains of big labor more powerful than ever, they don’t care.
The PRO Act, like the more visible H.R. 1, is an example of disastrous legislation that is packaged and labeled as advancing the interests of the American worker, when in fact they are designed by special interests to destroy democracy and deny upward mobility. The new operative theme is simple and tragic: in America, big labor, big business, and big government no longer engage in healthy conflict. Rather than checking and balancing each other, on the biggest issues they display a corrupt unity.
Here are some of the provisions of the PRO Act:
1) Eliminates the secret ballot in union elections, replacing it with “card check.” In this new system, employers would be compelled to give unions personal information about their employees, including their phone numbers and home addresses. Union operatives could then approach these workers, repeatedly, attempting to get them to sign a card approving unionization. Once signed cards were collected from a majority of the workers, the company would be automatically unionized. What could possibly go wrong?
2) Imposes binding arbitration. When union negotiators know that after a certain limited period of time, arbitrators will come in and mandate the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, they can be as unreasonable as they wish. Corporate negotiators are forced to sign agreements that may eventually harm the company and the workers in order to avoid an even worse result from arbitration. And who controls the selection of arbitrators? Who can better intimidate the arbitrators? Who is to guarantee the arbitrators even understand the businesses they are called in to assess?
3) And yet it also takes away binding arbitration in employee disputes. This means that every employee grievance, no matter how unfounded, becomes fodder for trial lawyers, whose business model relies on forcing business owners to settle cases without merit merely to avoid the expense of going to trial.
4) Takes away the ability of businesses to stay open during strikes. It also takes away the ability of companies to declare an impasse and lock out workers—no matter what. And it takes away the ability of businesses to hire temporary replacement workers. This can kill businesses, especially small businesses.
5) Removes restrictions on so-called “secondary strikes.” This means labor protests and strikes and boycotts can be organized not merely against the target company, but against every vendor that supplies that company, and every customer who purchases that company’s products.
6) Holds liable companies that sell franchises for violations of labor laws at any one of their franchisee’s operations. Now if any one of these independently owned franchises has a labor dispute, the litigators can also squeeze the national branding company. This so-called joint employer provision makes franchisors responsible for any alleged misconduct at every one of their franchises.
7) Overrides the “right-to-work” laws which are still in effect in 27 states. These laws protect the rights of workers who don’t want to join a union. In states without right-to-work laws, if you want to work in a unionized industry, you either join a union, pay dues, and subject yourself to their work rules, or you don’t work.
8) Redefines what it means to be an independent contractor. Millions of Americans prefer being independent contractors because it allows them to choose their own hours of work and offer their services to multiple companies. Small companies often have no choice but to hire independent contractors in order to fulfill the diverse requirements of their business, because they aren’t big enough to hire full-time employees to fill every type of job they need done. The PRO Act adds the following criteria to the definition of an independent contractor, “the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer.” But you can argue that anything an independent contractor is hired to do would be inside the course of business of the employer, or they wouldn’t be hired. The PRO Act will reclassify millions of Americans as employees, subject to union membership or union organizing. This will kill small companies and wipe out millions of jobs.
9) Imposes personal liability on corporate executives for labor violations—while at the same time undermining attorney-client confidentiality when businesses seek legal advice on labor issues.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, and a host of other business interests oppose the PRO Act. But the opposition obscures the bigger trend wherein America’s most powerful corporations are at best indifferent to the resurgence of big labor. On the issues bound to have the biggest long-term impact on the fate of America’s multinational corporations, big labor has come into alignment with them.
Where was big labor over the past 50 years while big business was lobbying for mass immigration to keep wages down by flooding the job market with desperate, unemployed foreigners who would work for a fraction of what Americans were earning? That goes on to this day, and does big labor bother to object on behalf of the American worker?
Where was big labor, decade after decade, as big business shipped factories overseas, gutting America’s manufacturing sector and obliterating millions of jobs? That too, is an ongoing drain, with barely a peep from big labor.
Where is big labor today, fully aware that the provisions of the PRO Act will destroy small businesses while leaving big businesses intact? Big business can adapt to a unionized workforce. Small businesses cannot. For the same reason overregulation actually works to advance the interests of big business, unionizing an industry also favors big business over their smaller competitors.
One of the biggest lies in 21st century America is the idea that the Left is a movement that looks out for the interests of the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged, the downtrodden. It doesn’t. Those unfortunates are manipulated by the Left, conned into resenting America’s middle class as “privileged” instead of inspired to work hard to join the middle class.
In reality, the American Left is working to advance the interests of the most powerful corporations and the wealthiest individuals on earth, and their mission is to destroy the American middle class and further consolidate their own power. They even attempt to morally justify themselves by claiming, falsely, that America’s middle-class lifestyle is ecologically unsustainable.
And on the issue of environmental politics, where is big labor? Apart from a few high-profile stands, such as advocating construction to begin on the Keystone Pipeline, big labor is absent from the debate. Why isn’t big labor lobbying for practical enabling infrastructure that would create affordable water and energy, affordable new homes, and modern, uncongested roads? Instead, they do the regressive bidding of the financial elites, who know that “renewables,” and other environmentalist restrictions create artificial scarcity, boosting their profits and bubbling up the value of their investments.
Unions, at least in the private sector, could play a decisive role in revitalizing America. But to do that, they are going to have to look out for the interests of their membership instead of their leadership. They are going to have to renounce their tacit partnership with big business and big government, and they are going to have to support policies that grow the economy and lower the cost-of-living, instead of blindly accepting policies that are tantamount to national suicide.
With the PRO Act, America’s unions not only betray the average American worker, they betray their own legacy.
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Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness and co-founder in 2013 of the California Policy Center.