New Legislation Seeks to Protect Workers

Bill would ban so-called ‘Right-to-Work’ laws that weaken unions and cripple worker rights

** Update 10/27/2017: The latest meeting between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, held in Virginia Oct. 11-17, ended at an impasse on the basic notion of what a revised version of the 23-year-old agreement should achieve. Canada and Mexico stand by the idea of free trade; the U.S. wants to make it less free, saying that its partners to the north and to the south are benefiting more than the U.S. through access to its huge market. Talks resume Nov. 17 in Mexico City. **

United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in September introduced the Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act to prohibit states from introducing laws that make it harder for workers to form unions and fight for higher wages and better working conditions.

The legislation seeks to repeal Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, which currently gives states the ability to ban union security agreements – so-called “right-to-work” laws. The introduction came days before the third round of re-negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took place in Ottawa. An evaluation of state “right-to-work” laws is part of the renegotiation of NAFTA given their impact on worker rights and workplace protections.

Additional Senate cosponsors include Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) announced that he will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives, along with five of his colleagues.

“The country is in the middle of renegotiating NAFTA, which was a bad deal for American workers,” said Senator Warren. “If we want to protect workers and expect a level playing field in international trade deals, we need to start at home – and that means banning states from imposing restrictions that prevent workers from joining together to fight for their future.”

“So-called right-to-work laws give corporations the ability to trample workers’ rights and dismantle unions. I refuse to let that happen,” said Senator Brown. “At a time when Americans are working harder and earning less for the time they put in, we should be making it easier for workers to raise their voices and bargain for better wages and safer working conditions. Right to work is really right to work for less.”

“More and more states are passing harsh laws that make it harder for workers to negotiate for better wages and better treatment. Over the last few decades, this has done enormous damage to our country’s middle class and the communities where they live,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act would block so-called state ‘right-to-work’ laws, which have been used to systematically attack and weaken workers’ hard-earned right to have a voice in the workplace and negotiate as a group with their employers. When unions are weak, corporations have enormous negotiating power over their workers, and can keep wages so low that their full-time employees are living in poverty. It’s time to stand up for our workers and push back.”

“States with ‘right-to-work’ provisions have a stated goal of taking away jobs from other states by weakening unions and therefore lowering wages, only by ending so-called ‘right-to-work’ nationwide can we stop this race to the bottom. That’s why I have introduced legislation in the House five times over the past decade to end ‘right-to-work’ laws nationwide, and in 2016 secured 48 House cosponsors,” said Congressman Brad Sherman. “There has never been a more critical time to pass this legislation because working families need a raise.”

In 1947, Section 14(b) of the Taft Hartley Act (an Act that passed by overriding President Truman’s veto) allowed states to pass legislation that eliminates the ability of unions to collect dues from those who benefit from union contracts. The result encourages a race to the bottom, as states compete to attract employers by offering weak labor laws and, as a result lower wages.

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