Ron Bieber: Pass the PRO Act to level the playing field for working people 

April 28, 2021 4:40 am

Al Bello/Getty Images

Since the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) passed 51 years ago, we’ve made great strides in making workplaces safer. Because of the organizing fights and wins of working people, labor unions, and our allies, fewer people are being killed and injured on the job. 

But our fight is not over. In 2019, the most recent year for which we have data, over 5,000 Americans lost their lives from preventable injuries and illnesses, including 164 here in Michigan. 

And in 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic reminded us that thousands of grocery store workers, transit operators, and others on the front lines risk their lives every day. While they were rightly hailed as heroes in the early days of the pandemic, as the months wore on and the pandemic continued, employers stopped compensating people fairly for the risks they were taking to keep our society moving. 

This pandemic has shone a spotlight on the devastating consequences of federal government inaction, employers who don’t maintain safe workplaces, and undemocratic non-union workplaces, all of which put working people in grave danger, costing over half a million American lives so far. 

Here in Michigan, we’ve been fortunate to have Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holding the line against out-of-touch Republicans who don’t believe we should be taking any precautions against the virus, but federal labor laws need to catch up once again with the harsh realities workers face today.

During the Great Depression, strong labor laws were enacted to correct the imbalance of power between people and corporations, but since then, corporate interests have systematically and surgically weakened those laws. 

Today, the balance of power has shifted overwhelmingly toward corporations and bosses, and the laws designed to empower and protect working people are woefully outdated and weak. The best way to level the playing field is to strengthen the ability of regular folks to improve their working conditions by making it easier for them to organize and join a union, because a strong labor movement has always been the best line of defense working people have against unscrupulous employers who are willing to put the safety of their workers at risk, just to try to make an extra buck. 

Fortunately, we have the chance to create that fair playing field again by passing the federal PRO Act. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to increase worker power, rebuild our economy fairly and grow America’s labor movement.

It’s the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression, because it will empower workers to exercise our freedom to organize, ensure workers can reach a first contract quickly after union recognition, end the practice of bosses punishing striking workers by hiring permanent replacements, strengthen the National Labor Relations Board, repeal “right to work” laws, and create pathways for workers to form unions without fear in newer industries like Big Tech. 

Public opinion is strongly in favor of working people having the opportunity to freely organize and collectively bargain for a fair chance for a better life. A recent survey found 65% of Americans approve of labor unions. Another study shows that nearly half of all non-union members in the country say they’d vote to join a union if they could. But our outdated labor laws no longer allow working people to effectively have our voices heard. 

Passing this legislation will restore power to working people and improve the economy for all of us, not just the wealthy few. It will strengthen workers’ ability to improve their working conditions. It will make it so next Workers’ Memorial Day, we’re celebrating a world where frontline workers are always treated like heroes and paid like they deserve, and all of us who want to form a union can do so. Let’s get it done.


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Ron Bieber
Ron Bieber

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. Ron is a third-generation UAW member, and the son of former UAW President Owen Bieber. Prior to his election as President of the Michigan AFL-CIO, he served as Director of the UAW’s Community Action Program.