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Murray, Jayapal meet with local labor leaders on PRO Act

Sponsors of labor law reform seek input on restoring freedom to form unions 


SEATTLE (June 7, 2019) — All workers should have the freedom choose whether they want to join together with co-workers in a union and negotiate a fair return for their work. They should be aware of their right to do so, free from coercion and retaliation. And any employer that denies workers that freedom should be punished for breaking the law.

Believe it or not, those are the principles behind existing labor laws in America. But those laws have been eroded away by legislatures and courts, and rendered toothless by a multi-billion dollar union avoidance industry. Today, employers routinely break these laws and the weak consequences are often considered just a cost of doing business.

That’s why Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate labor committee, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-7th) are lead sponsors on the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. This landmark labor legislation introduced in Congress last month would strengthen workers’ freedom to join unions and bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-9th) are also original sponsors of the PRO Act, and Washington Reps. Rick Larsen (D-2nd), Kim Schrier (D-8th) and Denny Heck (D-10th) have since signed on as co-sponsors.

Murray and Jayapal met with local labor leaders in Seattle on Thursday to get their input on this effort and to hear about the struggles workers are facing when they try to join together in unions or negotiate a first contract. They included representatives from Machinists (IAM) District 751, SEIU 775, Inlandboatmen’s Union, UFCW 21, UNITE HERE 8, and the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO

“I’ve been in the Senate a long time and I’ve watched a complete erosion of workers having the ability to work together so people can have safe workplaces and pay, the kind of benefits they need, and the ability to take care of their families,” Murray told labor leaders. “So we have put together this comprehensive legislation and we’re using our voices to raise this as an issue and to let people know what the challenge is and that we’re going to stand up for workers.”

“I think the fact that you have the two of us as lead sponsors (of the PRO Act) in the House and the Senate tells you the work that you’ve done and the power of the labor movement in Washington state,” Jayapal said. “We’re excited about this.”

IAM 751 President Jon Holden thanked Murray and Jayapal for their sponsorship of the PRO Act, and for efforts by Washington’s congressional delegation to call out Boeing regarding the firings of union supporters at the company’s South Carolina plant.

“It’s really important for our folks to see you standing up for them like that,” Holden said. He noted that, left unchecked, such actions are frustrating and discouraging not just for union members in South Carolina, but also for those here in Washington state who can’t understand how the company gets away with ignoring a union election and firing union supporters.

Other local labor leaders described the struggles not only of retaliation against workers who support unionization during organizing drives, but also the frustration of getting a first contract once they have a union.

BACKGROUND ON THE PRO ACT — As wage inequality continues to leave workers and middle-class families behind, the PRO Act would empower millions of Americans to stand together and ensure hardworking people are getting their fair share of economic growth. Today, unlike previous generations of Americans, they clearly are not getting their share.

A recent study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that unions have consistently provided workers with a 10- to 20-percent wage boost over their non-union counterparts over the past eight decades.

“Unions helped create the middle class in this country, but decades of attacks by corporate special interests have left many workers struggling to make ends meet and without a voice to advocate for themselves,” Murray said. “Our economy should work for everyone, not just corporate CEOs and billionaires — and that’s why I’m proud to introduce the PRO Act to strengthen workers’ bargaining power and their right to join a union to advocate for safer working conditions, better pay, and a secure retirement.”

“Under GOP rule, we have seen countless policy changes that have resulted in an economy of inequality and instability for our country’s most vulnerable workers,” Jayapal said. “The Protecting the Right to Organize Act will help reverse the years of damage done by policies stripping workers of their right to unite and bargain for themselves. I am proud to co-lead this legislation that will restore fairness to an economy that has turned its back on the lower class and strengthen federal laws to protect workers’ rights.”

Specifically, the PRO Act would:

●  Establish penalties on predatory corporations that violate workers’ rights, and combat misclassification of workers as supervisors and independent contractors.

●  Strengthen workers’ right to strike for basic workplace improvements, including higher wages and better working conditions.

●  Create a mandatory mediation and arbitration process to ensure corporations and newly formed unions reach a first contract.

●  Authorize unions and employers to negotiate agreements that allow unions to collect fair-share fees that cover the costs of representation.

●  Streamline the National Labor Relation Board’s (NLRB) procedures to secure worker freedoms and effectively prevent violations.

●  Protect the integrity of union elections against coercive captive audience meetings.

The PRO Act is endorsed by AFL-CIO; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Service Employees International Union; Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; United Steelworkers; AFSCME; United Food and Commercial Workers International; American Federation of Musicians; United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry; International Longshoremen’s Association; Professional Aviation Safety Specialists; International Association of Sheet, Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers; American Federation of Government Employees; International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots; Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; Utility Workers Union of America, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists; Guild of Italian American Actors.

To read the fact sheet of the PRO Act, click here.

To read the section by section on the PRO Act, click here.

To read the full text of the PRO Act, click here.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!