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Overwhelming Majority of Voters Back Fines for Employers That Violate Labor Laws

The findings suggest that it would be a politically popular move for Congress to act in support of the labor movement.

As labor regulators fight for increased funding for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and activists wrap up a watershed year for the labor movement, new polling finds that a majority of voters support the movement’s goals and are in favor of upping the agency budget and increasing penalties for employers that violate labor laws.

A survey of over 1,300 likely voters, released this week by Data for Progress, finds that 57 percent of respondents support increasing the NLRB’s budget, with 16 percent saying they “strongly” support a budget boost. Support is strongest among Democrats, with 73 percent in favor, though a majority of independents and a plurality of Republicans also support a budget increase.

The findings suggest that it would be popular for members of Congress to heed labor advocates and the NLRB’s calls to increase the agency’s budget. The labor board hasn’t had a budget increase in nine years — meaning that, with inflation, the budget has been effectively cut by 25 percent, thanks to conservative opposition to funding labor regulators.

This week, lawmakers unveiled $25 million of new funding for the board in the omnibus government funding bill, which the NLRB union says will be just enough to keep the agency running. But it is still far from what is needed to restore the staffing cuts that the NLRB has suffered and for the agency to handle the increased demand from the flourishing labor movement.

Data for Progress also found that an overwhelming majority of voters support increasing penalties on companies that violate labor laws. The poll shows that three in four voters support making employers pay $50,000 to $100,0000 in fines when they violate labor laws, with 83 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents, and 71 percent of Republicans in favor.

Currently, employers face little to no penalties for breaking labor laws, with fines limited to provisions like providing back pay to workers who were illegally fired, which roughly equates to the regular cost of doing business. This allows employers to essentially violate labor laws with impunity, empowering them to trample over workers’ rights; the Economic Policy Institute found that, in 2016 and 2017, over 40 percent of employers were charged with violating federal law in union campaigns.

This impunity has been on full display in current major union campaigns. Starbucks, for instance, has fired over 150 pro-union workers in just the past year in response to Starbucks Workers United’s union campaign. Though judges and the NLRB have repeatedly found the company to have unlawfully fired the workers in retaliation for supporting the union campaign, the company is still firing workers, likely viewing the tactic as financially worth it if they can dissuade workers from unionizing.

Labor activists have called for labor laws to be more punitive in order to meaningfully deter companies from using illicit anti-worker tactics. The proposal to impose civil fines on violating employers is included in the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, and is one solution backed by unions and worker advocates. The PRO Act, which has passed the House but not the Senate, would also give workers the option to file a civil suit against an employer that has violated their rights.