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Congressman Higgins Announces Introduction of Legislation to Protect and Expand Workers'Rights

Higgins Cites The Struggles of Starbucks Workers as a Prime Example of Why The PRO Act Is Needed

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced the introduction of the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (H.R.20). Originally cosponsored by Higgins, this comprehensive legislation protects workers’ right to bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces, with additional safeguards against corporate retaliation. 

“The PRO Act empowers workers and holds employers that violate labor laws accountable,” said Congressman Higgins. “Western New York has a long history as a community that understands the value of a union membership. Yet today workers who choose to organize often face steep roadblocks and unfair repercussions from employers. As workers in our community and beyond continue to organize on a larger scale, this legislation will ensure access to free and fair elections and require employers to respect the results.”

Shockingly, employers are charged with violating federal law in 41.5 percent of all union election campaigns , that number jumps to 54 percent when the employee count exceeds 60 people. Most recently, a federal judge with the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) released a decision on March 1, 2023 finding Starbucks Corporation responsible for making “egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights” and requiring Starbucks to rehire workers dismissed with backpay and damages. 

Unions have played a critical role in building a strong middle class and an economy that rewards hardworking families, with union worker making 10 to 20 percent higher wages and even non-union members benefiting in work areas with high density union membership. When union membership was at its peak in the 1950s income growth increased as a similar rate among levels of income. However, as membership in a collective bargaining unit declined the income inequality gap grew significantly, with the rich getting richer and workers sharing less of the prosperity. 

The PRO Act is the most significant update to our nation’s labor laws in the last 80 years. The bill ensures that workers have the power to decide for themselves whether to exercise the right to form a union, while preventing employers from interfering with these workplace rights. Under the current law, there are no monetary penalties for companies that violate workers’ rights. This legislation would authorize the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to impose penalties on companies for violations, as well as personal liability on corporate leaders who participate in or have knowledge of and fail to prevent violations of workers’ rights.

Over the past year workers across the country have engaged in a wave of organizing movements. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) experienced a 53 percent increase in representation election petitions from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2022. In 2021 Starbucks Workers United in the City of Buffalo began the process of formally organizing. Since then, they have sparked a movement that inspired more than 250 stores across the country to vote to unionize.

In February, Congressman Higgins invited Peter De Jesus, President of the Western New York Area Labor Federation (WNYALF), AFL-CIO to witness President Biden’s State of the Union, in recognition of the role the American worker plays in a productive economy. WNYALF represents 165 affiliated unions with over 140,000 members.