House Bill To Undo State-Level 'Right To Work' Laws Is a Preview of Democrats' Post-2020 Priorities

The PRO Act would implement a veritable grab bag of policies that labor unions have been pushing Congress to pass for years. The House will vote on it this week.


One way to understand the Democratic Party's agenda for the next four years is to pay attention to what's happening on the presidential campaign trail.

Another way—maybe a better way—is to keep an eye on what the House of Representatives is doing right now. And that's especially true this week, when Democrats are expected to pass a package of labor union-backed policies through the House even though the chances that the Senate will consider the bill are roughly nil.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) would insert new language into the National Labor Relations Act to compel the payment of union dues even by non-members working in unionized professions. That means the passage of the PRO Act would effectively undo so-called "right to work" laws on the books in many states.*

The PRO Act would also implement a veritable grab bag of policies that labor unions have been pushing Congress to pass for years. The bill would force employers to turn over employees' private information—including cell phone numbers, email addresses, and work schedules—to union organizers. It would accelerate the National Labor Relation Board's official timetable for union organizing elections in non-union workplaces. And it would codify so-called "card check" elections, removing the protection of the secret ballot when a workplace votes to unionize.

All three policies are meant to tip the scales towards unions and against employers.

Unions are looking for help from Congress because membership continues to fall. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only 10.3 percent of American workers are unionized—a drop of 0.2 percentage points since this time last year. While 33 percent of public-sector workers are unionized, only 6.2 percent of private-sector workers are members of a union.

"This failure to bolster union membership, even with the favorable rules promulgated by federal agencies, has strengthened organized labor's resolve that the only solution is to push for legislation like the PRO Act," says Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank that opposes the PRO Act. "Implementing such a policy would take away workers' right to choose how they spend their earnings, limit flexible work arrangements, and endangers workers' privacy."

Other opponents of the bill, like the National Retail Federation, which represents store owners, warn that passage of the PRO Act would hurt the gig economy. One provision in the bill would impose a multi-level test for determining if a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. A similar provision in California state law—which predated the state's even more controversial law effectively banning most independent contractor work—significantly curtailed the number of workers classified as independent contractors.

Forcing more workers to count as employees means higher costs on employers, less flexibility for workers, and, of course, more potential union members.

But since the PRO Act is almost certainly dead on arrival in the Senate, the expected House vote this week is more about politics than setting policy.

Internally, the fact that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) is letting the bill come to the floor for a vote is a major win for the House Democrats' progressive wing. But it's also telling that several Democrats in swing districts signed a letter last week urging Pelosi to bring the bill to the floor.

That means the PRO Act is likely to be a litmus test in this year's elections. Scheduling a vote now, even when the bill won't go any further, will allow Democrats to campaign on having supported it—and attack swing-district Republicans who oppose it.

And, at a higher level, all of this is outlining the direction Democrats will try to take the country if they gain control of the Senate and/or the White House in November. Unlike the pie-in-the-sky promises being made by the presidential candidates—who will compete later tonight in the first nominating contest on the long road to the White House—the PRO Act is a concrete list of policies being pushed by a politically powerful set of special interests.

That makes it far more likely that a Democratic Congress in the next few years could pass this package, or something that looks a lot like it, while lawmakers continue to clash over bigger issues like Medicare for All and free college.

*CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that the PRO Act would wipe out the Supreme Court's 2018 ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. That case dealt exclusively with public-sector unions, while the PRO Act will apply only to private-sector unions, and thus will have no bearing on that decision.*

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  1. The hell with the unions!

  2. Even a pro-Union political ad during the super bowl would’ve made more sense than a gun control ad.

  3. The bill would force employers to turn over employees’ private information—including cell phone numbers, email addresses, and work schedules—to union organizers.

    Oh, FFS! One presumes the PROponents will also have their private info so disseminated.

    1. The goonion members aren’t going to harass the PROponents dumbass.

  4. Aren’t police powers just peachy keen? Isn’t it wonderful what government can do when the Constitution is just a piece of parchment so old that it has to be kept in special climate-controlled box to preserve it? Wouldn’t it be horrible if some technical glitch ruined it so no one could tell what the original version said and had to rely on 9 nazguls to interpret it and refresh our poor memories? Isn’t it just grand that we have no economic freedom or rights?

  5. Trying to get around Janus? That’s really two-faced.

    1. Well done.

      1. Well, the door was open.

        1. It’s a new year!

    2. +1

  6. I understand why, which exists to promote the interests of its billionaire benefactor Charles Koch, might be nervous about policies supported by labor unions. And I admit a fully Democratic Congress might pass some problematic legislation such as a minimum wage increase.

    Nevertheless, we should still hope for total Democratic control in 2021 because Democrats are so much better on our fundamental, non-negotiable issue — open borders.


    1. Shut up, alt-right socialist! Look at what pro-labor California’s turning into. Unbearable cost of living, among the highest poverty rates in the nation, more people leaving it than settling in it for tenth year in a row.

  7. Yeah it’s terrifying to imagine the Democrats actually passing bills but Orange Man Bad. Billy Binion told me so. And ya know there just might be a libertarian case for Micheal Bloomberg. Read that in Reason magazine.

    1. “libertarian case for Micheal Bloomberg”

      1. He’s better on immigration.
      2. He’s better on abortion.

      1. Who is better on Soda?

        1. Supersized soda isn’t a Constitutional right. Access to abortion care, on the other hand, is.

          1. What about supersized abortions?

            1. Is that a matter of privacy?

      2. #libertariansforbiggulpbans

      3. #libertariansforTerryStops

      4. Hey, Tucker socialist! You’re mistaking libertarians with progressives. Progressives are the ones 100% behind abortion; libertarians are more divided on it. I’m pro-choice myself but I never pretend it’s from a libertarian perspective, as protection of life conforms with liberty ideals.

    2. The libertarian case for Hillary Clinton no longer carries the same cachet.

      1. From what i’m told, Hillary should use cachet. Lots and lots of it.

  8. What’s interesting about all this is that we might just be settling into a pattern where the Dems keep the House and the GOP keeps the Senate indefinitely, keeping them at each other’s throats and ineffective for years. That would be pretty wonderful.

    1. Except pen and phone.

      1. Change the party in the Whitehouse every 4 years. Keep them busy using pen and phone to undo what their predecessor did with his pen and phone.

        1. That works if you have an impartial judiciary.
          The fact that courts are hearing claims that Trump EO undoing Obama’s EO makes that a little more doubtful.

    2. Baseline budgeting… people always seem to ignore that part of the conflict. It is the ultimate form of can kicking.

  9. Janus wasn’t decided based on the violation of a law, Janus determined that the policy was unconstitutional. What argument are the sponsors offering that would make this new law any less unconstitutional? Or are they just trying to wish away that part of their jobs?

    1. Beat me to it, exactly what I was wondering.

    2. They don’t believe in the Constitution.

    3. Pack the court. Problem solved.

    4. See Heller, Citizens United, etc. They want what they want, the constitution be damned if a policy benefits one of their constituencies like unions.

    5. Be interesting to see how many obviously unconstitutional bills the House will pass between now and Nov.

    6. I believe that aspect of the PRO Act would again be struck down, but some of the other crap in the Act would stick to the wall.

    7. “What argument are the sponsors offering that would make this new law any less unconstitutional?”

      That it will take a decade to reach SCOTUS, and that’s ten years you’ll still have to follow it.

  10. which represents store owners, warn that passage of the PRO Act would hurt the gig economy.

    Remember when it was called “the sharing economy”? I do.

    1. While I share the sentiment that it’s all trendy hipster nonsense bullshit, the sharing economy and the gig economy are distinct ideas.

      In the gig economy, people aren’t stably employed in a protracted employment arrangement. It’s all short-term, project-oriented contracts. In the sharing economy, no one owns anything.

      Admittedly, there’s some overlap (fucking job sharing), but the distinction between not having a job currently and not owning anything is rather distinct and seems like the sort of distinction that libertarians, who invoke ideas like ‘property rights are sacrosanct’ and ‘no one owes you a job’ would be sticklers over.

      1. In the ‘sharing’ economy, you made your money by ‘sharing’ your ride and having people pay you for the service you provided with the vehicle you were ‘sharing’

        You ‘shared’ via uber or lyft or that other one. Or sometimes a smaller more localized one.

        But you owned your car. The idea that you were making your living with something you owned was part of the appeal.

        No idea where you got this–“In the sharing economy, no one owns anything.”

        The ‘sharing’ economy transmogrified into the ‘gig’ economy after the start of demonization undertaken by the taxi companies, the MSM, and various union interests.

      2. Agreed, and furthermore, the sharing economy is more technically about creating community access to things you don’t personally own, or can be stretched to sharing access to things you do own, in order to make efficient use of them. Think “ride-sharing”, those scooters, or decentralized rental car replacements that were supposed to be the next big thing.

        The gig economy has some overlap in the most prominently public-facing and talked-about instances, namely Uber/Lyft ride-sharing, but incorporates a lot of small-contract work in which people are selling services. In addition to the aforementioned ride-sharing, Fiver, Taskrabbit, online freelancing, and arguably even things like Etsy are incorporated into the gig economy.

      3. The term “Sharing Economy” grew on the concept of “time shares”, as in vacation condos, etc… the “Sharing” part means multiple people can use the same asset consecutively, but it in no way implies that there isn’t an owner. The “Economy” part means you get to make money doing it. Pretty simple.

  11. Wouldn’t this bill run into the same problem encountered by the Teachers’ Unions and California State in the Janus ruling? Only this one goes even further. Fuck privacy, fuck freedom of association, lets compel people to join an organization they are opposed to. And Trump is the fascist?

  12. So more Commerce Clause bullshit?

  13. Is it an impeachable offense to vote for a bill that is known to be unconstitutional?

    1. Only if the wrong people do it.

    2. Sadly, no. First, because legislators are not “officers” under the Constitution so they can’t be impeached no matter how bad their behavior. Second, because accountability is apparently too much to expect from our political class.

      That said, I would like to be able to dock the pay of our congresscritters and local politicians for all the time and money they waste discussing, passing and then attempting to defend the indefensible. We need a credible loser-pays legal system. Maybe the right losers to pay when a law is overturned as unconstitutional are the morons who passed the law.

    3. Hows this. Any legislative body that passes a law that is ruled as unconstitutional shall be disbanded and all that voted for the law shall not be allowed to ever run for public office again.

      State and local governments are made up mostly of lawyers that really should know better. One could even add that any that are members of the bar be disbarred.

  14. “Unions are looking for help from Congress because membership continues to fall. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only 10.3 percent of American workers are unionized”

    “In 2013, public sector jobs accounted for 16.0% of total employment. … From 2007 to 2010, the number of jobs in the private sector fell by an estimated 7.9 million, while the number of jobs in the public sector increased by almost 272,000.”

    Aside from the problem of overturning the constitutionality of a law by statute, The proposed law highlights a bigger long term issue is the growing percentage of jobs in the public sector draining the private sector. (fwiw, the multiplier effect is much lower than the multiplier effect of private industry jobs, contrary to krugman’s analysis)

  15. One way to understand the Democratic Party’s agenda for the next four years is to pay attention to what they’re doing.


    1. Taken by itself, it sounds ridiculous.
      But there’s good reason to pay more attention to what Pelosi and co. is doing rather than what Sanders, Warren, and co. are rambling about. Pelosi’s more of a permanent decision maker then they are likely to be.

  16. Nancy’s big wooden double headed dildo is listed in the Acme corporation catalog as “The Janus “.

  17. Hey, that sweet union dick is not going to suck itself.

  18. How about making the law say that anyone working on a union job has to pay a fee to the federal government equal to union dues even those who are not a member of the union.

  19. the expected House vote this week is more about politics than setting policy.

    Tell me about the House vote between now and January ’21 that won’t be more about politics and policy.

    1. ^and^than

    2. politics = policy

  20. Who cares? Most of what the Democrat majority House passes goes nowhere because the GOP majority US Senate rejects passings the bills.

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    1. But is it a union job?

  23. Janus was decided on first amendment grounds, how can legislation undo that?

    Oh right, Dems don’t care that they are passing blatantly unconstitutional laws

    1. There should be some sort of mechanism to prevent this… Especially with such recent decisions as Janus and Citizens United.

      Like… the Justices should be able to intercept the bill and shred it on the way to the president’s desk. Otherwise Congress is just spitting in the face of clear SC rulings.

  24. Someone explain to me how a law passed by congress can invalidated Janus when that was 1st amendment issue?

    I would presume that ‘compelled speech’ remains unconstitutional absent a constitutional amendment

    1. made this comment without seeing someone else already asked. my bad

      1. It deserves repeating.

  25. As indicated, it would be dead on arrival in the Senate and therefore just pure election politics. Not to mention it is just plain idiocy and unconstitutional nonsense.

    If unions were not embedded within government and did not try to unconstitutionally abuse laws in order to attempt to become a 4th branch of government, they might actually get somewhere.

    In other words, if unions were truly a private, free enterprise organization, then they would have many more members. I would definitely join anytime any of my employers were not employee friendly.

    In such a case, the union would then have to act according to the expressed wishes of its dues paying members or it would fold. Unlike today when they are often as much of a dictator as management.

    My 14 years in AFGE Local 3694 and just general reading and following union issues taught me one thing very well. There are 3 sides to every labor dispute; management, labor and union. Sometimes the union leaned towards management, most of the time it leaned towards labor, but its primary motivation and objective was always about its own power. PERIOD!

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