December 4, 2022

Why Biden May Not Be Able to Save Unions

“We haven’t seen this level of elected support for organizing since Franklin Roosevelt,” said Mr. Cohen, who expected the Amazon statement to discourage anti-union behavior among employers.

Still, Mr. Cohen and other labor officials said that absent a change in labor law, union membership was likely to follow a path under Mr. Biden that was similar to the one it took under Mr. Obama, when the share of workers in unions dropped about 1.5 percentage points. Over all, union membership has fallen from about one-third of workers in the 1950s to just over one-tenth today, and a mere 6 percent in the private sector.

“Because of growing inequality, our economy is on a trajectory to implosion,” said Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., in an interview. The PRO Act “will increase wages and slow that trajectory,” he added.

Under current law, employers can inundate workers with anti-union messages — through mandatory meetings, email, signs in the workplace — while unions often have trouble gaining access to workers. And though it is technically illegal to threaten or fire workers who take part in an organizing campaign, employers face minimal punishment for doing so.

Labor board cases can drag on for years, after which an employer frequently must only post a notice promising to abide by labor law in the future, said Wilma B. Liebman, a former board chairwoman. There are no monetary penalties for such violations, though workers can be made whole through back pay.

The PRO Act would outlaw mandatory anti-union meetings, enact financial penalties for threatening or firing workers and help wrongly terminated workers win quick reinstatement. It would also give unions leverage by allowing them to engage in secondary boycotts — say, asking customers to boycott restaurants that buy food from a bakery they are trying to unionize.

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