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Senate committee OKs bill to protect collective bargaining rights for private sector workers

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Senate committee OKs bill to protect collective bargaining rights for private sector workers
By AFSCME Staff ·

Although they managed to form a union through AFSCME Council 93, workers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, faced obstacles that no worker who wants a seat at the negotiating table should face.

The boss convened mandatory all-staff meetings led by anti-union consultants who sought to convince the workers that the hospital had their best interests at heart. Pro-union flyers and pamphlets were destroyed. Management fired two workers for their union activism, which prompted Council 93 to file an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board. 

That case ended in a settlement in favor of the workers, awarding them sizable settlements that included back pay, interest and damages.

Though the right to organize is protected by law, illegal intimidation tactics and anti-union attacks are all too common in workplaces around the country. Many employers tend to get away with such behavior.

The Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would stop that. AFSCME applauds the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee for approving the PRO Act Wednesday.

The bill would protect the basic right of private sector workers to join a union, impose stronger penalties on employers for violating workers’ rights (like those firings in Massachusetts), close loopholes that enable worker exploitation, increase access to fair union elections, and much more. Here’s a quick look at the bill’s provisions.

“This vital piece of legislation would hold union busters accountable and allow thousands of working people to experience the union difference,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said earlier this year. “It would give them the opportunity for a true voice on the job, leading to fairer wages and safer workplaces. In a country with rampant wealth and income inequality, unions are a proven solution.”

The vote was the first time in more than a decade that the Senate acted to protect collective bargaining rights. Earlier versions of the PRO Act, which now bears the name of the late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, have twice passed the House of Representatives in recent years.

“An overhaul of our nation’s collective bargaining law is sorely needed,” AFSCME wrote in support of the bill to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the HELP Committee. “While unionizing and interest in unionizing has increased significantly in recent years, so has interference by employers. The penalties for such interference, under current law, are merely a cost of doing business, not a true deterrent.”

In recent years, there’s been a surge in worker organizing. Union popularity is at its highest in more than half a century. Although the PRO Act has more hurdles to clear before it becomes law, Wednesday’s vote shows some lawmakers in Washington are paying attention.

The PRO Act applies only to workers in the private sector. AFSCME is pushing Congress to pass the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act (PSFNA) in the coming months. PSFNA would expand collective bargaining rights to public service workers in every state.

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