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OPINION: PRO Act a professional free market hit job

John Mielke is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

John Mielke is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

By now, almost everyone in construction has heard about the PRO Act, or Protecting the Right to Organize Act, that’s being considered in Congress.

But many people are unaware of its likely immense consequences. If the PRO Act becomes law, it will result in big changes to our labor laws.

This political payback to organized labor for supporting Congressional Democrats and President Biden is a wish list of union initiatives that have lacked congressional support over the years or have been rejected by the courts over many decades. And unfortunately, they have a chance of becoming the law of the land this year.

The PRO Act is an attempt to stack the deck in favor of organized labor. Workers are free to join or form unions, but membership has been on a consistent decline. In Wisconsin, it has declined from nearly 44% in 1983 to 22% last year. Therefore, labor leaders are hopeful that Congress and the president will “put a thumb on the scale” to increase their dues-paying member numbers from a field of workers who choose not to belong to unions; something unions have been unable to do on their own.

The PRO Act would essentially overhaul the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, instituting the most changes to the NLRA since the Taft-Harley Act restricted union power in 1947. The bill has no regard for employers – whether union or non-union – most workers, consumers or the economy, which would all be affected by these fundamental changes to our country’s labor laws.

If the PRO Act becomes law, it will:

• Effectively invalidate state “right-to-work” laws in 27 states, including Wisconsin.
• Interfere with the ability of employers to secure labor-relations advice on issues.
• Limit the ability of employers to contest union-election petitions and allow unions to engage in coercive tactics long held to be unlawful.
• Force employers to provide unions with electronic employee lists within two days after the NLRB directs an election.
• Allow for card checks to be used when employers are accused of interfering with elections, which removes workers’ rights to have secret ballots (and places a burden of proof on the employer).
• Legalize secondary strikes and boycotts, which can effectively shut down construction sites when one or more merit contractor is working there.
• Redefine the definition of “supervisor” to include more frontline leaders as “employees” covered by the NLRA.
• Broaden the definition of “employee,” making it difficult for workers to be classified as independent contractors.
• Make it illegal to permanently replace striking workers.
• Add to the fines and penalties associated with unfair labor practices and, in some cases, impose personal liability on company officers and directors.

As expected, the proposal quickly passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 9 and is now faced with a much tougher road in the U.S. Senate, where the filibuster, and its 60-vote threshold, is expected to be used by Republicans to block its adoption. We don’t expect much movement by either side, and the filibuster will have to remain intact to defeat the PRO Act.

The push by union leaders to realize these powerful advantages is relentless. They understand if they can’t get the PRO Act passed now – with their control of the House and Senate and a president who has promised to be the strongest labor president in our nation’s history – then when should they expect it? As such, union leaders are advocating ending the filibuster and have even reportedly threatened to withhold 2022 support of Democratic Party candidates if they don’t get this legislation passed.

Though most business leaders are hopeful the PRO Act can be defeated, this is only the first of many battles to come. If the proposals is blocked, you can expect various parts of it, such calls to end right-to-work, to be included in the infrastructure legislation or be introduced as separate pieces of legislation that could make their way onto the president’s desk.

This won’t be the only attempt by government to help organized labor reverse the slide. The White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, designed to help workers unionize, is an effort by the administration to use federal agencies to increase union density. The president could also attempt to require that annual federal contracting dollars be awarded only to union firms.

With a new administration placing such a heavy priority on unionization for America, I’m afraid we have only seen the beginning of an attempt to erode the open-market principles that employers and workers appreciate.

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