Why the PRO Act Matters for LGBTQ+ Workers

what is the PRO act?

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act encompasses many large picture labor goals and is the most comprehensive labor-focused legislation to be seriously considered in Congress in decades. It centers workers’ rights to unionize and participate in collective bargaining. It also dials up accountability mechanisms, and financially penalizes exploitative employers. Current penalty systems make it cheaper for some corporations to pay fines rather than make significant changes or upgrades to the work environment.

The PRO Act is currently in gridlock in the Senate, under threat of the filibuster. So, despite having widespread voter support and being a core platform piece of the Democratic Party’s Senate majority, the PRO Act has stalled in the Senate without a debate, awaiting either 60 secured votes or filibuster reform.

Filibuster reform is a whole different topic, but for a brief timeline showing how it’s been routinely leveraged against working class Americans — particularly marginalized communities — see Kevin Kruse’s Twitter thread on the topic.

The PRO Act is a significant step towards breaking up the wealth and power consolidation from the shareholder class and redistributing it back to the working class. Let’s be clear: it is hardly a silver bullet for the tangled web of systemic oppression we all find ourselves living and working within, but it does contain foundational protections for all workers including securing the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining through their union.

The official PRO Act fact sheet puts it this way:

"The American economy is not working for most Americans. While corporations and the wealthy continue to capture the rewards of a growing economy — working families and middle-class Americans are being left behind. From 1980 to 2017, average incomes for the bottom 90% of households increased just 1.1%, while average incomes for the wealthiest 1% increased more than 184%.

This inequality is not a natural product of a functioning economy. It is the result of policy choices that have stripped workers of the power to join together and negotiate for decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act restores fairness to the economy by strengthening the federal laws that protect workers’ right to join a union.”

It is a critical step in transitioning industries towards an economy that can respond to both the environmental and economical impacts of climate change. This is the labor component of a larger Green New Deal policy approach to climate disaster mitigation. The United States infrastructure is outdated and ill-adapted for the future we collectively face.

An overhaul of our energy grid and infrastructure is inevitable, and workers in the skilled trades are key to this transition and stand to benefit from the potential boom in construction jobs. The PRO Act would ensure that the benefits of this growth period are shared equitably and used to strengthen communities rather than corporate profit margins.

why the PRO act matters for LGBTQ+ workers

Queer and trans workers stand to benefit immensely from the protections this legislation offers, as do communities of color. Union environments standardize employer practices around hiring, wages, promotions, and employee terminations.

The downstream impact is a more diverse work environment with better pay equity and employee retention.

“The union advantage is greater for Black, Latino, women, immigrant, LGBTQ and other workers who have experienced workplace discrimination. Black, Latino and women workers are paid 13.7%, 20.1% and 5.8% more, respectively, when they belong to a union. Union contracts pay women and men the same for doing the same job.

You cannot be fired for your sexual orientation or gender identity under a union contract.”

Marginalized communities are painfully aware that corporate benevolence will never provide for their safety and wellbeing. But virtually everyone, whether or not you identify yourself as a vulnerable worker, stands to benefit from raised wages and improved working conditions.

If you aren’t rich enough to start planning your next trip to space, unions are working in your best interest. One hundred years of union membership history paints a stark picture of the wealth concentration at upper income levels that correlates to the decline in bargaining power of industry workers.

additional resources

All complex struggles must be addressed with a diversity of tactics, and the unionization of workers is just one of many mechanisms for forcing companies to equitably distribute profits. But it’s a very important tactic that has been critical to the shaping of American history, despite the equally long and vibrant history of American union-busting.

To see the summary and full text of the House of Representatives Bill: Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021 | H.R. 842

The Movement for Black Lives Coalition (M4BL) Economic Justice policy platform includes the Right to Organize (.pdf fact sheet)

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) podcast, The Dig episode from March 13, 2021 “We Need The PRO Act with Jimmy Williams

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