For 20 of the 33 years she’s worked at Hearthside Foods, an industrial bakery in McComb, Ohio, Gracie Heldman has campaigned for a union—specifically the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers.
Three times in 20 years, Heldman and her pro-union colleagues collected enough signed National Labor Relations Board union election authorization cards to demand a vote at the 1,200-worker plant. Once, they got 65% of workers to sign up.
Hearthside, whose plant turns out cookies, crackers and candy bars for big firms such as Nabisco and Kellogg’s, brought in union-busters. It forced workers to attend anti-union “captive audience” meetings, and threatened with discipline if they didn’t. Once, Hearthside illegally fired seven union supporters. During another drive, it even threatened, also illegally, to close up shop if the workers went union, Heldman told U.S. senators at the end of July.
The bullying, intimidation, harassment, labor law-
breaking and interrogation by union-busters or supervisors while workers were on the job succeeded. Enough people got scared, especially by the firings, that when the votes occurred, after drawn-out anti-union campaigns by the bosses and their “consultants,” BCTGM lost.
Heldman brought her story, which is typical of what happens to workers during organizing drives, to the Senate Labor Committee’s hearing on the Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act, the wide-ranging pro-worker labor law reform. It would outlaw such abuses, force the union-busters’ shady practices into the open, and do much more.
Democratic senators on the evenly divided panel gave Heldman and other pro-
worker witnesses—former NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pierce of Buffalo and Economic Policy Institute Policy Director Heidi Shierholz—a sympathetic hearing.
Not so the Republican senators, even though a new Hart Research poll shows a plurality of rank-and-file GOP voters (45% for-40% against), including a plurality of Trump supporters (45%-41%), back the PRO Act and its goals. The poll’s overall national margin for the PRO Act is 63%-25%.
Besides making it easier to organize, the PRO Act would negate so-called “right to work” laws, increase fines for labor law-breaking, and legalize card-check recognition when unions present signed NLRB election authorization cards, independently verified, from a worker majority. It also forces union-busters and their spending and clients into the open.
And it mandates binding arbitration when bosses won’t bargain a first contract.
Heldman described the obstacles workers face to unionizing. She also gave a simple summary of why workers want unions—which, other polls show, a majority do.
“It’s no surprise workers want unions,” Shierholz testified. “When workers are able to come together, form a union, and collectively bargain, their wages, benefits, and working conditions improve. On average, a worker covered by a union contract earns 10.2% more in wages than a peer with similar education, occupation, and experience in a nonunionized workplace in the same sector,” she pointed out.
“More than nine in 10 workers covered by a union contract (95%) have access to employer-sponsored health benefits, compared with just 68% of nonunion workers,” Shierholz continued. “Further, union employers contribute more to their employees’ health care benefits. And more than nine in 10 workers—93%—covered by a union contract have access to paid sick days, compared with 75% of nonunion workers.”
Pearce told senators “core provisions of the National Labor Relations Act have been eroded by overly narrow NLRB and court interpretations which frustrate the congressional intent” that led to the NLRA. Pearce, a former NLRB attorney, board member and chair, added that in the last four years, the GOP majority named by former Oval Office occupant Donald Trump undertook “an all-out assault on (union) access to workers.
“The right to engage in protected concerted activity withered away over decades of judicial attack and the policies of labor hostile NLRB majorities. From 1980 until its recent 2018 temporary spike, the worker’s statutory right to strike over working conditions and for mutual aid and protection has been curtailed almost to the point of ineffectiveness,” he elaborated.
One key reason: An early Supreme Court decision, that let bosses hire scabs—officially “permanent replacements”—for workers forced to strike for economic reasons. And the Trump majority made it easier for bosses to misclassify workers as “independent contractors,” unprotected by any labor laws, including the NLRA, he said.
As witnesses testified to the Senate panel, unions continued their nationwide campaign to convince reluctant lawmakers to pass the PRO Act (see separate stories). Their targets include two recalcitrant Democrats: Virginia’s Warner and Arizonan Kyrsten Sinema. The Hart Poll shows pro-PRO Act majorities in both states: 65%-22% in Virginia and 59%-25% in Arizona. Non-union voters back it 61%-27%, the survey adds.