For more than a year, businesses throughout the commonwealth have overcome some of the toughest economic challenges they have ever had to face. Some sadly could not survive the economic downturn and business restrictions following the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the ones that have weathered the storm face a new challenge—this time, a legislative threat from Washington, D.C.
The Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce is proud to serve more than 800 businesses employing more than 75,000 hard-working Virginians in communities across western Virginia. Since 1889, we have been working to foster economic growth and success in our communities by giving local businesses the tools they need to create jobs and overcome the obstacles they face. However, the proposed PRO Act could present myriad new challenges that would be difficult for local businesses to overcome.
S. 420, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act—or PRO Act—is legislation that would not only undermine workers’ rights, but disrupt Virginia workplaces and threaten local small businesses. Virginia’s delegation to the United States Senate is currently split on support of this bill.
During union-organizing efforts, this legislation would force Virginia workers to sign cards authorizing a union in front of their colleagues and organizers themselves, doing away with the time-honored tradition of voting by secret ballot. This is an attempt to compel workers to vote for unions at the expense of their privacy and freedom of choice. The PRO Act would even eliminate employers’ ability to challenge potential union misconduct during these drives, infringing on the rights of local business owners to protect their employees or operations.
If employees and employers are not able to reach a collective bargaining agreement within a 120-day timeline, this legislation would allow a government arbitrator to set binding contract terms for both parties. This person would know nothing about a business’s operations or its employees’ needs, and yet the arbitrator would have the authority to define the terms of and enforce labor contracts. Employees wouldn’t even be able to vote on whether to approve their new contract.
Moreover, the PRO Act would lift a number of restrictions that are currently in place to protect local businesses and consumers. It would allow unions to impose economic damage on neutral third-parties, even if they are not at all involved in labor disputes. That would expose consumers and businesses to coercion, threats, boycotts, picketing, and similar activities. What’s more, limitations on picketing would be lifted, essentially allowing unions to picket indefinitely, disrupting Virginia businesses, suppliers, and consumers.
If passed by Congress, this bill would also undermine Virginia’s independent contractors and growing gig economy. Importing a concerning California policy to determine whether a worker counts as an employee or independent contractor, the PRO Act would make it significantly harder for those in Virginia currently operating as independent contractors to maintain that status. That means many people could lose the freedom and flexibility that comes with independent or gig economy work, including the ability to set their own hours, choose what work they do, and determine how they would like to perform that work.
In Virginia, workers cannot be forced into paying union dues or supporting union activities if they do not vote in favor of unionization. Right-to-work has withstood the test of time and partisanship, with both Democratic and Republican administrations supporting it and defeating efforts to repeal it. The PRO Act would nullify all right-to-work laws here in the Commonwealth and in more than two dozen other states that have passed them.
Instead of reversing the trend of states that are implementing right-to-work laws, policymakers should focus on measures that allow business owners to attract and maintain a happy, qualified workforce. Continued engagement on Career and Technical Education programs across the various levels of education should be a high priority, as should educating students and adults alike on fulfilling career paths. The Chamber supported passage of the “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) program and applaud the bipartisan support of which it received in the Virginia General Assembly. This is the type of problem solving that will help employers and employees alike.
The Chamber will continue its work to support proposals that strengthen the business climate in Virginia’s Blue Ridge while opposing efforts that weaken it. Please consider asking Senators Warner and Kaine today to vote “no” on the PRO Act.
Terry Durkin is Vice President of Public Policy of the Roanoke Regional Chamber.