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Business Perspective: PRO Act provisions don’t belong in America COMPETES Act

Business Perspective: PRO Act provisions don’t belong in America COMPETES Act

Last year, the Business & Industry Association opposed the federal Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act.

“The PRO Act is an ill-advised attempt to fundamentally restructure American workplaces and infringe on workers’ rights to a secret ballot, workplace democracy and personal privacy,” we argued in a letter cosigned by other trade associations representing vital sectors of New Hampshire’s economy.

BIA, New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce and leading business advocate, seldom weighs in on federal legislation or regulations as our main focus is state public policy affecting our members. On occasion, there is federal legislation so egregious as to threaten businesses in our state that we are compelled to voice our concerns. The PRO Act was such an occasion.

The PRO Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives but died in the Senate. Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of the story.

Undaunted by defeat in the Senate, PRO Act supporters inserted several provisions of the act into the Build Back Better Act (BBB). Whatever the merits of the BBB, these provisions did not belong in a massive reconciliation bill because they reflected significant policy changes without any meaningful impact on the federal budget. BBB failed to achieve the support of even a simple majority in the Senate and died unofficially, along with the PRO Act provisions amended to it, around the first of the year.

Sad to say, employers still cannot breathe easy because Washington, D.C. seems to be a place where bad public policy proposals never die.

The America COMPETES Act is sprawling legislation designed to help American businesses become more competitive with China. The bill directs funding to strengthen U.S. manufacturing, among other things. It provides more than $50 billion in immediate funding for semiconductor production and research. It also authorizes more than $200 billion in future efforts to develop key technology areas and has additional proposals to address supply chain issues and promote fair trade. It did not include an attempt to unfairly tilt the balance of U.S. labor laws toward unions.

The House passed the COMPETES Act in January, but not before PRO Act supporters again stuffed key provisions of the PRO Act into it. Two provisions are particularly problematic for employers.

First, under the House version of the COMPETES Act, all employers who accept federal funding under the new law, as well as their subcontractors, would now be required to accept unionization at their workplaces via card check only. Card check denies workers the right to a secret ballot election and instead subjects them to potential intimidation by union organizers.

A second provision would allow federal arbitrators to take over negotiations between an employer and a union if a single round of contract negotiations falls through. These arbitrators, typically lawyers or judges, are often steeped in labor law minutia but ignorant of the pressures of running a business.

Because the U.S. Senate passed a clean version of the COMPETES Act, the two bodies must now assemble a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions of the bill. It’s vital that New Hampshire’s federal delegation oppose inclusion of these two job-killing provisions in the final compromise bill.

Even if the clean Senate version of the COMPETES Act prevails, PRO Act advocates have one last hope in President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department, David Weil. As the Wall Street Journal recently opined, “the Administration lacks the votes in Congress to pass the pro-Big Labor PRO Act, but Mr. Weil will be happy to impose its planks and take his chances in court.”

On behalf of BIA’s employer members, and thousands of related Granite State workers and families, we urge our federal delegation to respect the sentiment of the business community and oppose the PRO Act and its anti-business provisions in whatever form they take.

David Juvet is senior vice president of public policy of the Business & Industry Association, New Hampshire's statewide chamber of commerce and leading business advocate.

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