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'We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket.'

Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced a great big labor bill that would outlaw "right to work" laws and other practices aimed at squelching unions. Called the "Protecting the Right to Organize" (PRO) Act, the bill takes aim at several of the Right's cherished weapons for attacking organized labor. As we know all too well, for most of American history, government has joined business interests in fighting against workers' rights, particularly in the past forty years, resulting in a steady decline in union membership and a huge wealth gap. The PRO Act is a step toward letting workers have some real rights at work again.

The bill is sponsored by a raft of Big Names in both houses. Its House sponsors include Democrats Bobby Scott (Virginia), who as head of the Education and Labor committee is taking the lead on the bill, as well as Frederica Wilson (Florida), and Pramila Jayapal (Washington). In the Senate, the sponsors are Patty Murray (Washington), Jacky Rosen (Nevada), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), all of whom have wide labor support.

One of the first things you might notice about the bill itself (and the Democrats' talking points about it) is that "right to work" isn't mentioned by name, presumably because that's a union-killing scheme that, like Voldemort, shouldn't be said aloud. Seems fair enough, since of course those "right to work" laws never explicitly say they're out to kill unions. "Right to work" laws can't ban unions -- instead, they undermine unions by removing their ability to collect a "fair share" fee from non-union members, which covers the union's costs of negotiating on workers' behalf. Here's the explanation from the Dems' detailed summary of the bill:


Many states have passed laws that prohibit unions and employers from requiring fair-share fees from workers who benefit from representation but are not members of the union. These laws create a free rider problem, where individuals enjoy the benefits from representation without paying any of the costs, which shifts the costs of free riders onto the shoulders of coworkers who elect to join the union and pay dues. The PROAct permits unions and employers to agree to require fair-share fees, regardless of state laws, to cover the costs of collective bargaining and contract administration.

And that there is your reversal of "right to work."

In addition, the bill would crack down on a whole bunch of other corporate abuses. It would ban companies from hiring permanent replacements for striking workers, prohibit management from holding "captive audience" meetings while union elections are being organized -- where workers are herded in and forced to hear anti-union messages. The bill would crack down on the fun games corporations play where they misclassify employees as "managers" or "independent contractors," cleverly making them exempt from many labor laws. It would also put an end to mandatory arbitration, which forces workers in labor disputes to give up their right to sue employers.

In addition, the bill would strengthen the right to strike, including a removal of the current prohibition on secondary strikes and boycotts in support of other striking workers. And here's a really big one: The bill would empower the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to impose fines and penalties not only on companies that violate employees rights, but also on "corporate directors and officers who participate in violations of workers' rights or have knowledge of and fail to prevent such violations." Let's call that the Stick It To The Man clause.

But wait, there's more! The bill would also streamline the process for unionizing workplaces and prevent employers from interfering in union elections -- and if a union election fails due to provable management interference, then the company would be forced to recognize the union anydamnway. Plus there are provisions to "streamline procedures" at the NLRB -- stuff that gets a little weedsy but is damned important when it comes to ensuring labor violations get prompt attention. (No, there's nothing about giving workers weed, pay attention.)

All in all, it's a hell of a good set of proposals heading into 2020, and we hope it gets some love from the Dems running for president. And if anyone asks what can be done about all the robber barons in this New Gilded Age, let's all point to this -- and to the Green New Deal, and to Elizabeth Warren's Eat the Rich wealth tax, and good lord there's so much work to be done. Fortunately, doing it together is what unions -- and filthy sex jokes on Wonkette -- are all about.

[House Committee on Education and Labor press release / PRO Act fact sheet / PRO Act summary / PRO Act bill text / Josh Eidelson on Twitter]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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