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The PRO Act Is Legislation for Working People, Not Elites

Since the 1970s, growth in “real wages” (that is, the value of the dollars paid to employees after being adjusted for inflation) in the United States has slowed compared to overall economic productivity. It’s no coincidence that during that same time there has been an ever-increasing amount of state and federal legislation intended to suppress labor unions.

The biggest opponents of union organizations in their workplaces are corporate CEOs and billionaires. They spend countless dollars on union-busting propaganda within their own companies, and they spend millions upon millions in campaigns for candidates who oppose pro-worker agendas.

Earlier this year, Amazon unleashed an aggressive public relations campaign against unionization at its warehouse in Alabama (with money that could have been used to pay a fair wage to its employees), including text messages to employees, leaflets, a website that urged workers to “do it without dues” and fliers posted in bathrooms that urged workers to “vote ‘NO.'” After that election, workers then got to watch their own boss take off on a billion-dollar rocket ship into space with Amazon’s record-breaking profits.

So when I saw an op-ed by the West Virginia Chamber’s Brian Dayton calling the PRO Act a “ploy” by “elites” to “gain power,” I couldn’t help but laugh.

How on earth could federal legislation that would strengthen workers’ rights — their ability to form a union in their workplace to negotiate for better pay and benefits, safety protections, schedules, and other conditions; their right to speak out about low wages, unsafe conditions, or other problems in the workplace without intimidation or retaliation from their employer — benefit or empower the elites?

Mr. Dayton’s awkward attempt to tie “elite liberals” to a piece of legislation for working people is about as clear as mud. As a spokesperson for wealthy businesses, many based outside West Virginia, he wanted, but failed, to link working-people legislation with D.C. partisan politics in order to taint public opinion.

There’s no doubt Mr. Dayton is frustrated that West Virginia’s Republican governor has stated, more than once, that the so-called Right to Work law and repeal of Prevailing Wage failed to bring businesses to our state.

The PRO act would help repeal Right to Work in West Virginia and other states. Millions of dollars spent by the Koch brothers and other CEOs on the creation of ALEC and eroding workers’ rights through legislation such as Right to Work will have been, rightfully, wasted. All Right to Work does is force a union to represent employees who refuse to pay for their services. Would the Chamber of Commerce allow a business to enjoy its representation without paying dues? That does not sound fair to me — it sounds unjust and hypocritical.

Mr. Dayton goes on to question why a simple majority of employees should be allowed to form a union within a private business. I don’t understand this. Most organizations and institutions (possibly the Chamber of Commerce?) make decisions through simple majority votes. Legislation is passed daily by simple majority. Elections are won and lost by simple majority. That is a critical part our democracy and our freedom.

And it’s not just rank-and-file employees who benefit from good wages and fair workplaces.

Small businesses depend on workers to use their wages to buy cars and groceries, frequent restaurants, etc. These are the people who teach and coach their children, manufacture and deliver goods, and fix their homes and business with the skills and knowledge of their trades. The average union worker makes 20% more than the non-union worker, and those wages help stimulate the local economy.

We at the West Virginia AFL-CIO are thankful that Gov. Justice recognized that Right to Work and the repeal of Prevailing Wage did nothing in this state. We are grateful to Sen. Manchin for signing on to the PRO Act to ensure workers are paid fairly for their work, get quality healthcare, have safe working conditions and are allowed time off to spend with their families. West Virginians are known to be some of the hardest-working people in this country and they deserve dignity, respect and a voice. We’ve given enough breaks to corporate elites.

The PRO Act is legislation for the people.

Andy Walters is secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO. He is a native of Wheeling.

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