August 9, 2021
By Jacob Huebert
Unions and the Biden administration are trying to enact a new federal law—the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or “PRO Act”—that would abolish state “right-to-work” laws and completely deprive private sector workers of their right to choose whether to join and pay a union. A report recently published by the Institute for the American Worker explains how the PRO Act threatens to harm workers in Arizona and nationwide.
First, some background. Since 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) has given unions a unique legal privilege: They can represent all workers at a unionized firm—including those who don’t want to be represented by a union—and can force an employer to bargain with a union whether it wants to or not. That’s a severe imposition on workers’ and businesses’ freedom of association and freedom of contract.
But since 1947, federal law has at least allowed states to partially mitigate the imposition on workers’ freedom by passing so-called “right-to-work” laws, which protect unionized workers from being forced to join a union as a condition of their employment.
Today, 27 states have enacted “right-to-work” through a constitutional amendment, state legislation, or—as in Arizona—both. The Arizona Court of Appeals has said that Arizona’s right-to-work guarantees protect workers from being made to “participate in any form or design of union membership”—which means workers not only can’t be forced to join a union, but also can’t be forced to pay union dues or fees to get or keep a job.
The PRO Act would eliminate those protections in Arizona and nationwide. If it became law, the 101,000 Arizonans—and 2.7 million Americans—who work at unionized firms could immediately be forced to pay union dues or lose their jobs.
And that would only be the beginning. There are 2.6 million Arizonans whose jobs could be unionized under the NLRA. If the PRO Act becomes law, any of those people could become unionized and forced to pay union fees. And the PRO Act would make unionizing workers against their will much easier: It not only would abolish right-to-work but also would (among other things) allow unions to pressure workers to sign a card to authorize a union for their workplace instead of holding a vote with a secret ballot.
That could harm workers’ finances as well as their freedom. According to the Institute for the American Worker report, annual dues in Arizona’s eight largest NLRA union locals range from $200 to $3800 per year and average almost $850 per year.
In addition to depriving workers of freedom and money, the PRO Act would also deprive Arizona and other right-to-work states of a competitive advantage they’ve held over states that don’t respect workers’ freedom to choose. According to the report, employers are more likely to invest or build new factories in right-to-work states, and right-to-work states have one-fifth to one-third more manufacturing jobs and unemployment rates that are 1.2 percentage points lower. Like the American Rescue Plan Act’s ban on state tax cuts, the PRO Act is an attempt to use federal law to override state policy decisions to eliminate an advantage that states with relatively low taxes and regulation have enjoyed over high-tax, high-regulation states that are losing residents and businesses.
The PRO Act might sound like a “democratic socialist” fantasy—like a union wish list that could never actually pass. But the threat it poses is real.
In fact, it’s already passed the House of Representatives. Fortunately, it hasn’t passed the Senate yet—thanks in part to Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, who have so far resisted intense pressure from their fellow Democrats to support the bill. Perhaps that’s because polling shows that 74% of Arizona voters are “concerned” about the PRO Act abolishing their state’s right-to-work protections.
But the threat isn’t over. Some have been trying to sneak the PRO Act’s provisions into the massive budget reconciliation and infrastructure proposals Congress has been considering, apparently hoping opponents will give up their resistance in order to pass higher-priority measures. And the unions and other left-wing activists keep pushing hard to get Sinema and Kelly to cave.
That means Arizonans and anyone else who cares about freedom and prosperity must be vigilant—and demand that lawmakers stand firm against this extraordinary incursion on states’ authority to set their own policies and on workers’ freedom to choose.
Jacob Huebert is a Senior Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.