Controversy surrounds ‘right-to-work’ laws after House passes bill

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or so-called "PRO Act," passed in the House of Representatives and immediately drew the anger of opponents. It's a controversy about Right to Work laws, and the strength in numbers provided by unions.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida is among 27 states that have “right-to-work” rules, meaning anyone has a right to employment without joining a union and paying dues. But the rules could all be overturned.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Protecting the Right to Organize” or PRO Act, mostly down party lines, and reaction came quickly from the losing side.

“It’s a collection of every horrible, bad idea organized labor has had in the last 50 years all rolled up into one bad bill,” said Matthew Leen, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee.

Leen told News4Jax the grassroots lobbying organization represents nearly 3 million members and supporters, and they reject the bill as bad for workers and the freedom to choose.

“The right to work means that workers can join a union if they want, but they can’t be forced to join or forced to pay dues in order to get or keep a job. So we believed in voluntary unions," he said.

Leen said the bill would strip states of their right to choose. He said it would force workers to pay union dues even if they didn’t want to belong to a union.

“It’s really outrageous that anyone supports this but we have 224 members of Congress who voted to do just that,” he said.

While Northeast Florida Republicans voted against it, Rep. Al Lawson voted for the bill.

He said through email: "Over the last several decades, workers seeking to exercise their fundamental right to form a union have faced aggressive opposition from corporations and well-financed anti-union special interests, driving down union membership to record lows and undermining workers’ economic security and their families’ position in the middle class. The PRO Act helps hardworking people get ahead by strengthening the basic right of American workers to stand together and negotiate for higher wages, better benefits and safer working conditions.”

On Monday night, News4Jax spoke with labor expert John Parker. Now retired, Parker is still part of the executive committee for the AFL-CIO in Florida. He said the national movement is “hypocritical at best.”

While the Right to Work Committee claims 80% of Americans agree it’s wrong to force workers to pay union dues, Parker said the results are different if the question “Should a worker pay dues if they enjoy the same wages and benefits as negotiated by the union?” is asked.

The bill has not been voted on in the U.S. Senate. President Donald Trump has also promised to veto the bill if it makes it to the White House.

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.