Legislation is working its way through the U.S. Congress, and if it passes, would have grave ramifications for Virginia’s business climate, economic development, and job creation efforts. The bill is called the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. But despite its name, it is anything but positive. It is a union wish list of anti-business policies that ultimately harm businesses and workers alike.
The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives on a partisan vote where it went relatively unchecked. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., has thus far refused to co-sponsor the PRO Act, which has helped to keep the bill from being heard on the Senate floor. Warner deserves our gratitude for not co-sponsoring the PRO Act — his actions are protecting Virginia businesses and workers at a vulnerable time. The business community is appreciative of the senator’s position on the bill.
Virginia is one of 27 states that currently have right-to-work protections for workers. The PRO Act in effect would repeal the commonwealth’s right-to-work law without any action by the Virginia General Assembly.
Supporters of this bill claim that it is intended to protect the right of workers to unionize, but in reality, it would strip workers of some of their most fundamental rights, including the right to privacy. If passed by Congress, the PRO Act would force employers to divulge to union organizers the personal information of their employees, including personal phone numbers and home addresses.
This misguided bill would allow government officials to interfere in the contract negotiating process between employers and employees if negotiations run longer than 120 days, which can often be the case for complex collective bargaining agreements. In those circumstances, government arbitrators would be able to enforce the terms of a contract on both sides of the negotiating table without approval from either party.
Putting a government worker, who is unfamiliar with a business’s operation, in charge of determining and mandating contract terms not only undermines local businesses but would limit the ability of employees to have a say in their new contract. This approach has failed spectacularly in the public sector, having been blamed for multiple bankruptcies and pension crises. If we repeat these mistakes in private businesses, it will lead to job losses and hurt our economy.
The PRO Act would also officially redefine what it means for a business to be a joint employer — essentially when two separate business entities are both responsible for an employee’s wages. Doing so could undermine the relationship between businesses and contractors as well as between franchisors and franchisees, disrupting business models and limiting the ability of employers to create jobs and drive economic activity.
If the PRO Act becomes law, it will do nothing to help workers and, in fact, would threaten some of their most basic rights while making it that much harder for Virginia businesses to hire new employees, expand their operations, and strengthen communities across the commonwealth. As the country and Virginia recovers from the pandemic, legislation like the PRO Act is the last thing our businesses and communities need. We must fight the urge to fix what ain’t broke.
Bryan K. Stephens is president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. Bob McKenna is president and CEO of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.