This opinion article was published in USA TODAY Network – New Jersey.
The New Jersey State AFL-CIO urges everyone to contact their federal elected officials and thank them for their support of the PRO Act.
President, New Jersey State AFL-CIO
For the last year and a half, Americans talked a lot about workers, people who woke up at all times of the day and night to do jobs in every sector of labor to keep the economy moving forward as best as they could during the worst pandemic since 1918.
These men and women were called essential. They were called heroes. They were given standing ovations and serenated nightly with spoons banging on pots and pans. They were told “thank you” in dozens of ways.
But not always on payday. Not always when anti-viral protective gear was being handed out. Not when layoffs started. Not when their medical benefits ran out or when their dinner tables were empty.
For the last year and a half, some previously invisible workers doing difficult and dirty but absolutely essential jobs suddenly became visible. So did the way some of them are treated in the workplace.
So did the massive income and wealth gap that threatens America’s middle-class way of life.
A problem this big needs an even bigger solution. That’s why it’s essential – like these workers – for the U.S. Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and send it to President Joe Biden for his promised signature.
At its core, the PRO Act upholds and strengthens the National Labor Relations Act. Federal labor law has become toothless, only slapping the wrists of union-busting companies that harass labor organizers and interfere with union elections – elections that by law must be free and fair. It’s long past time for U.S. labor law to be vigorously enforced.
A union contract levels the playing field for equality.
The PRO Act means bargaining for fair wages and benefits, including the path to a $15-an-hour minimum, so families can enjoy the fruits of their labors. It equals workplace safety and health protections, so employees can come home healthy after every shift. The PRO Act will let workers negotiate for schedules and paid leave that preserve and enhance family life. Union contracts advance racial and gender diversity and dignity on the job, including pay equity and freedom from harassment.
Working people who come together in a union can bargain for higher wages (11.2% more than what nonunion workers make). Union members also are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance (94% compared with 68%), access to paid sick days (91% compared with 73%), retirement benefits through private employers (82% to 48%), and guaranteed pensions through private employers (54% to 8%), according to the most recent data compiled by the AFL-CIO.
Workers who elect to form a union gain strength through their unity and solidarity, and that strength goes beyond good pay. Unions guarantee workers due process in disciplinary matters through formal grievance procedures. Unions give workers a voice in company policies. Frontline workers regularly show boardroom executives how to run their company better, especially in the COVID crisis. Skilled union workers saved countless lives during the pandemic.
Conversely, over the last 50 years the decline in union membership has been accompanied by an increase in income inequality and wage stagnation of nearly 40%. Top economists and sociologists agree that unions built the American middle class, and the lack of unions imperils that same middle class.
National polls have consistently found that Americans support unions, and that a majority of workers would join a union if they had the opportunity, because they know that unions ensure good jobs for all working people. The PRO Act gives everyone that opportunity.
New Jersey’s two senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, are original co-sponsors of this historic pro-worker legislation. All 12 of New Jersey’s House members, Democrats and Republicans alike, co-sponsored and voted for the PRO Act when it was passed in the House in March. Our state’s working families continue to thank them for their support and their advocacy among Senate holdouts.
All 50 Republican senators and three Democrats – Mark Warner of Virginia and Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – are not co-sponsors of the PRO Act. They must support the PRO Act, and soon.
Americans doing essential lifesaving work want and need the PRO Act. Americans doing essential lifesaving work deserve the PRO Act.
The men and women they elected to the Senate must honor them and their wishes.