A series of controversial bills recently cleared a key Senate committee which could substantially impact employers’ obligations regarding unions, pay equity, and paid leave.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee on June 21 advanced three bills — the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Healthy Families Act. All three have companion legislation in the House.
PRO Act Seeks Sweeping Changes to Labor Law
The PRO Act aims to strengthen the rights of unions and workers trying to organize. Specifically, it would overhaul the decades-old labor law in several ways:
- Allow “card check” union elections, replacing secret ballot votes. This would allow unions to be certified if most workers sign cards expressing support.
- Prohibit employers from holding mandatory meetings with workers to present views against unionizing. Supporters argue that this prevents intimidation, but critics say it limits speech.
- Invalidate state-level right-to-work laws which allow workers to opt out of union membership. This would require workers to pay dues or fees to unions at unionized workplaces.
- Require employers to share workers’ personal contact information with union organizers, including cell numbers, email addresses, and home addresses. Unions say this facilitates organizing, while business groups argue it exposes workers to unwanted harassment.
In addition, the bill would alter legal standards for independent contractors and joint employers while permitting unions to encourage boycotts against an employer’s customers or suppliers during labor disputes.
Supporters argue that these changes would empower workers to freely exercise their right to collective bargaining without undue obstacles or influence from management.
However, business organizations strongly oppose the legislation, saying it would undermine worker privacy and choice regarding union membership. Critics say the bill infringes on the rights of individual employees who may not want to join a union or pay dues.
Paycheck Fairness Act Seeks to Close Gender Pay Gap
The Paycheck Fairness Act claims to strengthen remedies for pay discrimination and close the gender pay gap.
Women in the U.S. in 2021 earned approximately 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Even when looking only at those in full-time, year-round jobs, women in 2021 were typically paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to a man (although critics say this statistic does not account for disparities in the distribution of occupations).
To tackle this, the bill would:
- Prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history. Supporters say this prevents past discrimination from following workers and perpetuating lower pay.
- Require employers to demonstrate that any pay disparity is based on legitimate, job-related reasons rather than gender. This raises the bar for justifying pay gaps.
- Make it easier for employees to bring class-action lawsuits against systemic pay discrimination. Individual cases are hard to prove, advocates argue.
- Protect workers from retaliation for discussing salaries with coworkers. Fostering pay transparency helps surface disparities, proponents say.
Supporters argue that these steps are long overdue to ensure women receive fair, equitable compensation, free of longstanding biases.
However, critics counter that pay discrimination based on gender is already prohibited under current equal pay laws, so the bill is unnecessary. One lawmaker called it redundant and warned it would primarily benefit trial lawyers rather than help resolve pay disparities.
Paid Leave Bill Mandates Sick Days for Workers
Finally, the Healthy Families Act would require most employers to provide full-time workers with seven job-protected paid sick days per year. Employers could mandate qualifying periods before leave can be used.
Small businesses with fewer than fifteen employees would be exempt from the paid leave requirement but would have to offer unpaid sick time. Employers that already provide ample paid time off policies could continue those plans.
Supporters characterize paid sick leave as a basic worker’s right and a matter of health and equity. Nearly a quarter of U.S. workers currently lack access to any paid sick days. Backers argue the bill would establish a national paid leave standard.
But critics counter that the mandate is unnecessary since most employers already offer some form of paid sick leave. They contend that the market is already shifting on its own toward broader paid leave policies without the need for federal intervention.
One lawmaker said that since many companies are voluntarily adopting sick day programs, the market should be allowed to work rather than imposing rigid requirements.
The fate of the bills remains uncertain, but their passage would substantially change how companies handle unions, compensation and benefits. Employers will want to stay informed as the legislation advances.
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Copyright © 2023 Smarts Publishing. This is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.