After previously speaking in favor of the workers who were trying to organize an Amazon facility in Alabama, President Biden last week signed an Executive Order on Worker Organizing and Empowerment and delivered an address to a joint session of Congress discussing the importance of unions. In his speech at the Capitol, the president said, “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class. And that’s why I’m calling on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act – the PRO Act — and send it to my desk to support the right to unionize.”
If Congress passes the PRO Act, it will make sweeping changes to labor law. For example, it will end right-to-work laws, make union organizing easier by allowing employees to form a union without an election if the employer commits an unfair labor practice during an organizing campaign, allow intermittent strikes, prohibit the hiring of permanent replacements for strikers, and make it harder for companies to classify workers as gig workers or independent contractors. Just three more Senators are needed before the PRO Act will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
Within 180 days of the Executive Order, a task force chaired by Vice President Harris will make recommendations to the President “to promote worker organizing and collective bargaining in the public and private sectors, and to increase union density.” The Executive Order directs the task force to “promote worker power in areas of the country with hostile labor laws, for marginalized workers (including women and persons of color) and hard-to-organize industries, and in changing industries.” (emphasis added). The task force will propose changes to policies, practices, statutes, regulations, and programs to meet these objectives.
The task force will seek input from the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the National Mediation Board, and other executive agencies, boards, and commissions that are responsible for implementing laws related to union organizing and collective bargaining. It may also seek information from “labor organizations, worker advocates, academics, experts, and other persons and entities” that will help complete the objectives of the order.
It is imperative that companies monitor the recommendations of this task force as they unfold to prepare to respond to changes in the law. The task force may recommend several changes that can be implemented even without action from Congress. These changes, which the administration could attempt to achieve through agency action even if the PRO Act is not passed, include new policies at the National Labor Relations Board regarding a reduction in the time before an election takes place once a petition is filed, permitting workers to use company email and communication systems to engage in union organizing, granting greater protections to employee speech in the context of union organizing, and broadening the definition of employee so that more workers can form unions. Because these changes will affect both unionized and non-unionized workforces, all employers should be paying attention to the administration’s pro-union push.