On April 27th, a diverse group of union leaders, political activists and organizations held a wide-ranged town hall to discuss a labor law that will protect workers. The local chapters of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), East Bay, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley organized the event, which featured 7 labor and community organizers and 85 participants. They described this legislation as the biggest piece of federal legislation since the New Deal and a critical step to counteract the long term trend in declining unionization, especially in the private sector.
The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would repeal state “Right to Work” laws that allow employees to avoid any union dues while receiving all the bargained and labor power of the union. California is not a right to work state, but 28 states, including Alabama, home to the recently failed organizing effort in Amazon, are in that category. By repealing these laws, existing unions would grow their membership and funding, allowing them to further fight for workers and to unionize other workplaces more easily.
In the Bay Area, union organizers also spoke on the unique struggle they faced even without right to work laws and how the PRO Act would help. Matthew Torres from SEIU and former worker at the recently unionized Tartine bakery spoke about how currently management can force mandatory anti-union meetings, where they spend hours trying to scare workers into not joining a union. Specifically, he said Tartine owners constantly brought up immigration under Trump to undocumented and Spanish-speaking workers to make them wrongly question their immigration status, their ability to organize and fear deportation if they did so.
The PRO Act would ban these mandatory meetings. Also, the PRO Act would stop employers from using immigration status as a way to avoid back-pay owed to workers under National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) proceedings. Multiple workers organizing in Dandelion Chocolate also spoke on how forced mandatory meetings pushed their recent unionization vote to review by NLRB. They described those meetings as attempts to make workers fear for job security, even as employment picks up in the Bay Area and unionized workers have much better job security.
The PRO Act would also allow secondary strikes, where workers strike in support of other unions, and unions could focus on fighting for worker wages together. Sheleka Carter from the SEIU spoke on how joining a union had helped her fight for a better contract at Alameda Health System, which recently led a strike that forced out the CEO. John Meija from Rideshare Drivers United spoke about how Prop 22 affected gig workers such as Uber and Lyft drivers. He said they faced the losing end of the law, with a small fixed-dollar health stipend, no unemployment insurance and no paid time off. The PRO Act would make it easier for gig workers to form unions, by expanding the definition of employee using the ABC test, which in turn forces companies to count many gig workers as employees. This in turn would allow those workers to further unionize.
The PRO Act has already passed through the House of Representatives and President Biden supports the bill. Biden spoke about it at his joint address of Congress. However, the two Democratic Senators from Arizona and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), coincidentally the richest of all senators, have not endorsed the bill. DSA and Communication Workers of America (CWA) have organized massive phone banks to residents in these states, encouraging them to call into their office’s and demand support for the PRO Act. This campaign has led to Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) announcing their support of the bill.
The rally on April 27th ended with Andres Soto from Communities for Better Environment discussing how unionized workers in refineries have felt pressure to fight environmental regulation on the highly polluting refineries. He hopes that an empowered union movement can fight for unionized green jobs and offer a just transition for these workers. Jovanka Beckles from the AC Transit board argued that public transit and an already unionized workforce could lead the charge to a green future.
The following Saturday on May 1st, May Day, unions, along with organizations like DSA and the Sunrise Movement rallied in San Francisco and the East Bay in support of workers, unions and the PRO Act. DSA, in conjunction with CWA and IUPAT, continues its weekly phone bank campaign to pressure the 3 senators that would provide 50 votes to pass through reconciliation with Vice President Harris serving as the tie breaker.
Photo by Savannah Kuang