Updated, 1:58 p.m. 5/10/19, with other Michigan co-sponsors of the bill
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), a former union organizer, says that strengthening workers’ rights to organize is one of his top priorities in Congress. And he’s co-sponsoring a new bill that would do just that.
The first-term congressman is an original co-sponsor of the sweeping pro-labor Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, along with four other Michigan lawmakers: U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) Haley Stevens (D-Rochester) and Dan Kildee (D-Flint).*
In a call with reporters on Wednesday, Levin, along with co-sponsors U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.)., touted the legislation as a major step toward reversing the trends of growing income inequality and wage stagnation.
Levin described the legislation as creating a “free market” in which workers could organize.
“The decline of union density is not a product of worker’s choices or preferences,” Levin said. “If you look at polling today, if we had a perfect free market for worker organizing, there’d be about 30 percent of workers in unions.
“Instead, [the decline of unions is] a result of toothless labor laws like the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which did not have meaningful penalties for employers for unlawfully preventing workers from organizing or exercising their rights.”
The most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that about 10.5 percent of people in the U.S. belong to a union, as the Advance has previously reported.
Michigan slightly outpaces the rest of the country with about 14.5 percent of workers who are organized. That’s down, however, from almost 20 percent in 2008. Republicans passed a Right to Work law in 2012.
Overall approval of unions is at a 15-year high, according to a 2018 Gallup report, which said 62 percent of U.S. citizens support unions.
The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on the PRO Act shortly after the co-sponsors’ call with reporters on Wednesday. According to a fact sheet that accompanied the legislation, it seeks to solidify three major pro-union goals: more punitive measures for employers who violate workers’ rights, stronger protections for workers attempting to form unions and collect mandatory fees, and “restoring fairness” by closing loopholes around employment status and increasing transparency.
While the legislation could pass the Democratic-controlled U.S. House, it will almost certainly face resistance in the
GOP-run U.S. Senate and from Republican President Donald Trump, who has received past endorsements from law enforcement unions, but has struggled to gain support from more traditional labor unions.
Nonetheless, passing the legislation remains a top priority for labor, said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of unions.
“I’ll make no bones about it. This is the labor movement’s No. 1 legislative priority this year,” Trumka said shortly before testifying in support of the law.
“Economic insecurity is skyrocketing out of control,” he continued. “The [PRO] Act will help ensure working people share in the massive wealth that we help create.”