OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today led a coalition of 17 attorneys general in calling on the U.S. Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021 (PRO Act). The PRO Act strengthens and modernizes the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which enshrines the fundamental rights to organize, unionize, and bargain collectively. In the face of globalization, rapid technological change, rising income inequality, race and gender wage gaps, and a pandemic-fueled recession, the PRO Act honors this country’s longstanding commitment to treating workers fairly and respecting the dignity of work. In today’s letter, the multistate coalition highlights the urgent need to pass the PRO Act and respectfully urges the Senate to seize this historic opportunity to improve the lives of America’s working families.
“When we fight for the right to organize, we’re fighting for fair wages, safe working conditions, equitable benefits, and the wellbeing of our people,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As a son of the farmworkers’ movement, I’ve seen firsthand the fruits of the labor of my parents and so many others like them who fought to give working families a chance. It’s because of them that I have the opportunity to serve as California’s Attorney General. That’s the power of unions. It’s not just about ensuring people can get a living wage, it’s about opening doors for our children and breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Respectfully, I urge the Senate to take action now and pass the PRO Act. Strong unions make for a strong America.”
When the NLRA was enacted in 1935, it was broadly intended to promote workers’ rights to unionize and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions. Progress was never easy. From Black sanitation workers in Memphis to Latina janitors in California and all points in between, organizing has always required real struggle. But the law worked. Between the late 1940s and the 1970s, union membership skyrocketed, and median household income rose in lockstep with increased productivity — both growing over 100%. Yet, in the face of a rapidly changing marketplace, the NLRA’s protections have not been able to withstand the test of time. Today, just 12% of American workers are represented by a union — down from 27% in 1979. This decline in union membership has contributed significantly to a historic rise in income inequality. Despite rising labor productivity, median earnings have barely budged upwards over the past four decades.
However, this dramatic decline in union membership is no accident. It tracks the rise in corporate opposition to organizing and aggressive anti-union campaigns. Indeed, these campaigns, which often spare no cost, seek to intimidate workers and often falsely imply that unionization will lead to mass layoffs or the closure of the workplace. And they employ a wide range of other pernicious tactics. To combat union drives, employers routinely enforce disciplinary rules with more frequency against pro-union workers, engage in pretextual retaliatory firings, interfere with union elections, hire union-busters, employ delay tactics, and impart misleading information via mandatory captive-audience meetings.
The PRO Act is comprised of commonsense reforms to the NLRA designed to curb these abusive practices and, more generally, restore the law’s original purpose of encouraging unionization. Restoring that purpose benefits all workers. Compared to their non-union counterparts, union members earn 10 to 15% higher wages, are more likely to have employer-sponsored benefits, like health insurance, paid sick days, and pensions, experience less wage theft, and are less reliant on public benefits. Importantly, in the midst of our national conversation about racial inequality in all its forms, we must not shy away from hard truths. Workers of color have suffered the worst effects of rising income inequality in recent decades and they have suffered a disproportionate burden from the pandemic-driven recession. For example, Black and Latina women have lost jobs at a rate three times higher than that of white men during the pandemic. Unions are a critical antidote to these disparate outcomes; the benefits of the PRO Act will be magnified for workers of color. Passing the PRO Act will help restore the ability of our nation’s workers to organize and bargain collectively for better pay and improved working conditions.
In sending the letter, Attorney General Bonta is joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
A copy of the letter is available here.