Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) has introduced a bill that would ban states from implementing so-called “right-to-work” laws, which suppress union activity and make it more difficult for workers to form unions.
The bill, which was previously introduced in 2017 and 2020, is known as the Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act. It would rescind “right-to-work” laws — which are currently in place in 27 states and Guam — that prohibit unions from collecting dues from non-union members who are still covered under a union contract.
Labor organizers have long advocated against such laws, saying they lower wages and worsen working conditions not only for pro-union workers, but for all workers in states where “right-to-work” legislation is implemented, as data has shown.
“Republicans and their corporate interest backers have imposed state laws with only one goal: destroy unions and discourage workers from organizing for higher wages, fair benefits, and safer working conditions,” Warren said.
“At a time when labor unions are growing in both size, popularity, and delivering real wins for workers, Democrats are making clear that we stand in solidarity with workers everywhere, from Starbucks baristas to Google cafeteria workers and everyone in between,” she went on. She also advocated for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would massively expand the ability of workers to form unions in the U.S.
The bill is cosponsored by 18 senators and 12 House representatives, including prominent progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington). It has little chance of passing the Senate filibuster, which forces bills to clear a 60-vote threshold to pass.
The bill also has the support of many major labor organizations, including the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Unions (AFL-CIO), the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).
As a press release on the bill points out, “right-to-work” laws result in 5 percent lower union rates and a decrease in overall wages for full-time workers of about $11,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Further, according to the AFL-CIO, workers in these states have worse health benefits and workplace fatality rates. These states also have a nearly 15 percent higher poverty rate.
Such laws have likely played a large role in declining union rates in the U.S. In the 1940s, roughly a third of workers were in a labor union. But union rates have been declining ever since then — with the majority of “right-to-work” laws being passed in the 40s and 50s, and a handful in the 2010s — and now sit at a mere 10.3 percent.
Pro-union advocates and labor experts say that “right-to-work” laws severely kneecap unions financially, as they require unions to represent workers that may not even be paying dues. Supporters of “right-to-work” claim that it gives workers more choice and boosts employment, but research shows that this isn’t true: states with such laws don’t have higher employment, and, as a result of unions being weakened, workers have less bargaining power and less choice than workers in stronger unions.
A ban on “right-to-work” has been proposed before, in the PRO Act. But although the PRO Act passed the House last year, it’s never been taken up in the Senate, as several conservative Democrats are opposed to its passage.