"You have seen [strikes in] Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. That is mild. You have not yet seen the gates of hell opened, and that is what is going to happen from now on unless the Congress of the United States passes labor legislation to cure the evils which are existing in industry and which are driving these workers to desperation."
— U.S. Rep. William P. Connery Jr. quoting a labor leader, 1934
Congress enacted our nation’s labor laws only after hundreds of thousands of workers protested, struck, or even died to win a voice, respect, and dignity at work. As a result of these efforts, the reforms were significant—Congress mandated minimum wages and overtime pay and created a structure for workers to win formal recognition of their union. In fact, the preamble of the nation’s labor law, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), states that workers must have “full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing” to combat the inequality of bargaining power between workers and corporate employers. Consequently, the NLRA is an explicitly pro-union law that Congress passed to avoid even more militant worker uprisings against big business.
Almost a century later, an overwhelming majority of U.S. workers support unions and would form one with their coworkers if given the opportunity. Recent organizing drives at Amazon, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and Apple—and popular support for what some are calling the 2023 “Summer of Strikes”—show this. But for decades, labor activists have faulted federal law for making the process of joining a union cumbersome and even dangerous for workers. They say the NLRA and the body that administers it, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), enable employers to deliberately break the law—even fire union supporters—with few, if any, consequences.
To address this issue, some in Congress have sought to change the law to tip the scales more in favor of workers. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2023 (PRO Act), named after the late president of the nation’s largest union federation, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The PRO Act amends the NLRA in several ways, with the goal of making union organizing and bargaining easier while imposing substantially heavier penalties on lawbreaking companies.