By Doris Crouse-Mays,Virginia AFL-CIO
AMay 26 op-ed, in which Grafton deButts of the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce criticizes the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, not only dismisses how this bill will help our working families, but it disrespects everything Virginia’s workers have gone through over the last year to keep our state’s economy afloat.
While tens of thousands of Virginians were able to comfortably work from home during the COVID-19 crisis, our essential workers could not. Grocery workers made sure families got food on the table. Postal workers showed up with our packages. Linemen kept our power on. And every single one of these workers had to return from work each night wondering if they had caught or would infect their loved ones with COVID-19. Those without the power of a union were left weighing the potential consequences of speaking up about workplace safety.
Unfortunately, our broken labor laws allow employers to get away with violating the National Labor Relations Act with little to no consequence. As we navigate our new normal and continue to mitigate the risks all around us, there has never been a more important time to ensure workers can speak up for themselves with a voice on the job.
Enter the PRO Act. This monumental legislation will empower Virginia’s workers, including those right here in Loudoun County, to exercise our freedom to organize and bargain. Business interests claim this bill will mean economic disaster, but this could not be further from the truth. Union members are more likely to have higher wages (11.2% more than what nonunion workers make), better access to employer-paid healthcare (94% compared to 68%), retirement benefits through private employers (82% to 48%) and so much more.
DeButt references how the PRO Act will put an end to “right to work” in Virginia. While this is accurate, there is no boogeyman union leader whose life goal is to “force” workers to join their union. In fact, no one can force anyone to join a union — it’s federally illegal. What Jim Crow-era “right to work” laws actually do is suppress wages, lower workplace safety and reduce the quality of public services we rely on in our communities.
I was also deeply disappointed to read deButt’s suggestion that workers who cannot afford to live in Loudon County should resort to extra gig work on apps such as Uber and DoorDash.
In no way will the PRO Act take away anyone’s ability to pursue a second job. However, riddle me this–what if we lived in a world where workers weren’t forced to make ends meet through gig work?
What if we lived in a world where one job was enough? Our younger generations might not remember, but we used to live in this world. Between 1948 and 1973, when New Deal era laws expanded and enforced collective bargaining, hourly wagesroseby more than 90%, keeping in line with a productivity increase of 97%. It was much easier during that time period for a Virginia family to make an honest, living wage and lead a comfortable life.
But then from 1973 to 2013, hourly compensation for a typical worker rose just nine–yes, nine–percent while productivity increased 74%.
For far too long, Virginia’s workers have been producing significantly more than what they are compensated for, and business leaders have been getting away with violating our labor laws. It’s time for a change. It’s time for Mark Warner to co-sponsor the PRO Act.
Doris Crouse-Mays is president of the Virginia AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor union federation