House Passes Sweeping Rewrite of American Labor Laws

March 12, 2021

This week, the House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act by 225 to 206, with one Democrat voting no, five Republicans voting yes, and action in the Senate dependent upon the survival of the filibuster.

The bill recalibrates virtually every significant provision in the National Labor Relations Act in labor’s favor, abandoning the rifle-shot approach of recent labor reform bills—such as the “card check” bill of the Obama era.  Among the major changes included, the bill would:

  • Eliminate secret ballot elections in most instances, while providing for on-line voting where elections are held;

  • Eliminate protections for neutral employers against being drawn into labor disputes involving companies with which they do business;

  • Have third party arbitrators determine the first collective bargaining agreement between an employer and a newly elected union;

  • Eliminate employers from having a role in resolving key procedural issues regarding a union representation election among its employees;

  • Impose strict new limitations on employer communications to their employees prior to a union representation election;

  • Curtail an employer’s ability to have supervisors communicate its views to the employees;

  • Enable independent contractors to form a union; and

  • Establish a private right of action for alleged employer violations of labor law.

The House floor debate was devoted primarily to the need for greater union representation rather than the specific provisions of the bill.  House Education and Labor Committee Republicans, led by Ranking Minority Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC), were frustrated by the decision under a new rule to bypass committee consideration and were forced to package their various floor amendments into a single measure that was rejected by 185 to 243.   In addition to objecting to the hasty consideration of such a sweeping measure, Dr. Foxx noted: “Federal law already protects the right of employees to organize, and Republicans respect that right.  But any reforms to U.S. labor laws should help workers flourish in the modern economy.”

Outlook:  The bill has the strong support of President Biden but will fall far short of the 60 votes needed to shut off a filibuster in the Senate.  However, as discussed in a separate story, that procedure is under strong attack from progressives.