Congressman Cline not only joined almost all other House Republicans to oppose the Protect the Right to Organize Act, he tried to justify his anti-worker vote with a speech on the House floor.
The Washington Post reports:
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, known as the PRO Act, would amend some of the country’s decades-old labor laws to give workers more power during disputes at work, add penalties for companies that retaliate against workers who organize and grant some hundreds of thousands of workers collective-bargaining rights they don’t currently have. It would also weaken “right-to-work” laws in 27 states that allow employees to forgo participating in and paying dues to unions.
Cline is wrong to claim that “right to work” laws protect “the fundamental right to work.” The first thing to know about “right to work” laws is that they do not guarantee anyone the right to work. (“Right to work” is a phrase invented by anti-union interests.) Instead these laws weaken unions by forbidding agreements requiring all workers who benefit from a union contract — including wage increases, health and retirement benefits, paid vacations and a grievance procedure — to pay a share of the cost of union representation. It’s a matter of simple fairness.
Cline went on to assert: “Because of Virginia’s pro-business and pro-employer stance, it has once again been ranked as the number one state in which to do business by CNBC.”
You will notice that Cline didn’t mention anything about Virginia also having a “pro-worker” stance. That’s because it doesn’t. A study last year by Oxfam America ranked Virginia last among the states on protecting workers’ rights, based on wage policies, such as state minimum wages; worker protection policies, such as accessibility to paid time off; and right-to-organize policies, including union protections.
Cline continued: “Every American should have the right to get a job or keep a job or keep a job without having to join a labor union. This bill would inappropriately pre-empt and prohibit that right.”
Wrong. The PRO Act would strengthen the rights of workers to organize a union, but it would not force anyone to join a union. It would simply permit employers and unions to agree to contracts allowing unions to collect fair-share fees covering the costs of collective bargaining and administering the agreement from any workers who don’t want to join.
Cline then complained that the act would require employers to provide unions with contact information of employees before a vote by employees on unionization, claiming this would “enable harassment and intimidation” of workers.
In fact almost all the harassment and intimidation of workers trying to organize is carried out by employers. A study released last month revealed: “Employers were charged with violating federal law in 41.5% of all NLRB-supervised union elections in 2016 and 2017, with at least one [Unfair Labor Practice] charge filed in each case.” This included illegal firings, coercion, threats and intimidation of workers trying to exercise their right to organize. The PRO Act would strengthen the weak-to-nonexistent penalties against employers who engage in such behavior.
Finally, Cline may want to take into account the opinions of his constituents in the Sixth District. In 2016 Virginia voters rejected a Republican effort led by, among others, then-delegate Ben Cline to enshrine Virginia’s anti-union “right to work” law in the Commonwealth’s Constitution. Opposition to the ballot measure came not just from traditionally Democratic urban areas but from rural Republican-leaning parts of the Commonwealth. The overwhelming majority of those voting “no” were not union members.
In fact voters in much of the Sixth District — including majorities in Republican-leaning Augusta, Bath, Highland, Page and Rockbridge Counties, as well as Buena Vista and Waynesboro — opposed Cline’s “right to work” amendment in 2016.
It seems most of the people Cline represents in Congress don’t hate unions as much as he and other Republican politicians think they should.