ND Labor Groups: PRO Act Is About Accountability

Mike Moen

MINOT -- Many arguments are being floated about legislation before Congress that would bring big changes to U.S. labor laws. The bill has its opponents, but North Dakota unions who back the plan say it's important to look beyond the rhetoric.

Sponsors of the PRO Act said a key goal is to make it easier for workers to unionize. It also would override "Right to Work Laws" in 27 states, including North Dakota.

Opponents say that removes choices for workers who don't want to join a union.

Bob Wolf, organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 714 in Minot, said they can opt out. He argued dues-collection language ensures they contribute to efforts to secure benefits they receive.

"It costs the folks that are members money to negotiate a contract, to fight grievances, and you don't go to a potluck and not bring anything," Wolf asserted.

This month, unions from across the country held rallies in hopes of convincing senators still on the fence about the bill. They said the effort centers around blocking businesses who use intimidation tactics to stall union organizing. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce countered the PRO Act would do more harm to workplaces than good, while disrupting the economy.

Wolf contended it goes beyond wages and the ability to hold union elections. He added giving organized labor more tools to operate paves the way for safer working conditions.

"You know, we don't see everything out in the field, and that's where when the members come back and say, 'You know, we're being asked to do this in an unsafe manner or an unsafe way,'" Wolf recounted.

Landis Larson, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, said as for prohibiting interference, workers should have the right to openly discuss union possibilities without looking over their shoulder, or being forced to attend company-sponsored informational sessions.

"They call them captive-audience meetings with the employees," Larson explained. "It is very intimidating when you're looking at the people that actually give you your money for a paycheck. It's a real chilling effect."

The House approved the PRO Act in March, but it faces an uncertain future in the Senate.