PRO Act Aims to Restore Workers' Rights

The guest column below was written by Jackie Yenna, a member of the Southern Indiana Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, of Bloomington.

(For news about Bloomington City Council's support of the Act:

For the majority of American workers, the bedrock for prosperity has and will always be organized labor. Workers coming together within the workplace — fighting for a living wage, a safe working environment and for the benefit of their families — is essential to achieving the American Dream for most working people. The economic gap between rich and poor has been increasing for decades. Income for the rich has been increasing dramatically while, adjusting for inflation, income for the poor and middle class is stagnating for some, declining for most. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, now before the U. S. Senate, is one step to halt the growing income inequality.

The stated purpose of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was to encourage collective bargaining, the ability of workers to come together to negotiate with their employer over working conditions and benefits. But nearly all subsequent changes to the Act have weakened workers’ rights to organize and given corporations more leeway to treat workers as just another commodity in their expense ledger. The PRO Act would restore workers’ rights and ensure that workers are treated as people and not just an expense.

Business organizations and their media supporters are attacking the PRO Act by falsely claiming that the PRO Act will eliminate freelance work and destroy the gig economy. Neither is true. Freelance work is here to stay. It is not going to go away with passage of the PRO Act. The PRO Act merely defines who is considered an employee under the NLRA, and therefore eligible to form a union, and who is an independent contractor, and therefore not eligible to form a union. The PRO Act does not change the nature of the work, including freelance work.

Businesses have incentives to misclassify employees as independent contractors. By doing so, the business will pay less in payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare). The employees, by being misclassified as an independent contractor and thereby self-employed, will be responsible for paying these taxes themselves, resulting in smaller paychecks. More importantly to many large corporations, independent contractors cannot form labor unions. Thus, by treating employees as independent contractors, the company can keep unions from forming in their workplace. They can keep their workers from coming together to collectively bargain for better pay or safer working conditions.

While most businesses do not engage in the practice of misclassifying their employees as independent contractors, there are way too many that do, including some large, well known corporations. While they have financial incentives to do so (less payroll taxes), for many the primary purpose is to keep out unions. The loss of freelance work is a false narrative. It’s not true, but more importantly that is not why business organizations oppose the PRO Act. The real reason is to keep their workers from forming unions. Right now, corporations have a large advantage when it comes to determining whether their workers form a union. The PRO Act would put that choice back where it belongs, with the workers. That is why business interests oppose the PRO Act. They do not want their workers to have a voice on the job.

The majority of Hoosiers are not corporate managers or employers. They are simply workers, striving to make a decent living for their families. Our U. S. Senators, Todd Young and Mike Braun, should support the majority of their constituents and vote in favor of the PRO Act.