Americans have suffered too long from this pandemic. But we can see a new day dawning on the horizon. Coronavirus infections are on the decline, and with three different vaccines now on the market, an end to the pandemic is within reach.
Our economy is beginning to recover as people return to work. The unemployment rate plummeted from nearly 15 percent last April to just over 6 percent this February. State lockdowns are finally being lifted and our economy is getting back on its feet.
Unfortunately, some lawmakers intend to exploit this critical time in order to pass a partisan goody bag — the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or the PRO Act — that solely benefits labor unions while ignoring the rights of millions of American workers.
The PRO Act would, among other things, likely reclassify countless independent contractors as employees under the National Labor Relations Act. This reclassification would rob millions of workers of the right to set their own terms and schedule their own work hours. The bill would also strike down right-to-work laws in 27 states, including Kentucky’s, which guarantee every worker has the “free and fair choice to join a union,” as our president put it.
It would also force employers to hand over their employees' private information — including cellphone numbers and home addresses — to union organizers, exposing them to harassment and intimidation. This bill not only erodes the privacy rights of workers but strips them of their ability to vote both on a union contract and through a secret ballot over whether to unionize.
This harmful legislation could not come at a worse time. Lawmakers should know this. The PRO Act represents a massive upheaval in our labor market and erases more than 70 years of established labor law. It would undermine the livelihoods of tens of millions of independent contractors at a time when they can least afford it.
If you want to see how this legislation would work in practice, look no further than California’s Assembly Bill 5, a law passed in late 2019 intended to reclassify most of the state’s independent contractors. AB 5 employs what is called an ABC test that regulators use to determine which independent contractors would be pushed into traditional employment — the same test the PRO Act would implement.
The law’s supporters never seemed to wonder whether these workers might prefer their flexible arrangements — or if businesses could afford this costly mandate.
The law further worsened California's lackluster job numbers, forcing thousands of freelancers out of work entirely. It subjected photographers to onerous and frankly bizarre mandates limiting the number of pictures they could send to clients.
The law also made it nearly impossible for optometrists, yoga instructors, pharmacists, writers, speech therapists, and wedding planners — among countless other professions — to take on more clients as independent contractors.
It didn't matter how hard lawmakers hoped clients would place them on the payroll as their own employees. Vox Media, for example, was forced to lay off hundreds of its California-based freelance writers, hiring only a tiny fraction of them back for full and part-time work. Now, some in Congress want to recreate this on a national scale with the PRO Act.
Supporters of the bill claim companies are exploiting independent contractors. But there's simply no evidence for that claim. In fact, nearly 80 percent of independent contractors say they prefer their flexible work arrangements.
Why should we assume members of Congress understand the interests of these workers better than they do?
What’s more, this bill gets the facts of right-to-work laws dead wrong. Right-to-work states typically experience faster manufacturing and overall job growth, greater growth in household consumption, and higher disposable and overall cost of living adjusted incomes. That's why 74 members of the House of Representatives have signed onto the National Right to Work Act — with 16 senators supporting the Senate version — which would ensure that union membership is purely voluntary and will protect workers from being fired if they opt-out of joining a union.
Unfortunately, the PRO Act would represent a step backward in the progress we've made since the pandemic hit our shores and make it more difficult for Americans to earn a living for themselves and their families. The American people oppose its provisions. Lawmakers should, too.
Rand Paul is a U.S. Senator representing Kentucky. Tim Phillips is the President of Americans for Prosperity.