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Making sure workers have a seat at the table

by Al Ekblad
| May 2, 2021 12:00 AM

We are emerging from a year unlike any other. Our towns and communities deserve hope, opportunity and a future worth looking forward to. Our workplaces must be placed at the center of that hope.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which has now gone to the Senate to be voted on. The PRO Act is the most significant worker empowerment legislation in decades, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to guarantee and safeguard our right to exercise freedom of speech in the workplace.

This legislation will take important steps to level the playing field and make sure workers can have a seat at the table. It will give the National Labor Relations Board the power to take action against employers that engage in illegal anti-union activity like intimidation and firing of workers who speak up. It will prevent big corporations from stalling and drawing out the negotiation process to keep workers from getting a fair contract. It will repeal so-called “right-to-work” laws that have led to lower pay and less benefits for workers in many states. And it will set the stage for pay to raises for all workers, whether or not they are a member of a union.

When passed, the PRO Act will give an enormous boost to every community in Montana. America needs it because the laws governing our freedoms at work no longer protect us.

In Kalispell, nurses are being harassed with anti-union materials just because they want better staffing so patients can get the proper care. In West Yellowstone, winter guides have been fired for organizing for basic pay. Despite consecutive years with record profits, BNSF Railway closed its diesel engine maintenance facility in Glendive last year, dramatically slashing the number of good-quality private sector jobs east of Billings.

Workers across our state face immense challenges and need to be free to speak up. This is what the PRO Act restores: our basic freedoms to protect not only our jobs, but our communities.

Senator Tester has already signed on as a co-sponsor of the PRO Act. Senator Daines says he believes in the workers of Montana. If that’s true, he must do the same.

Al Ekblad is executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO.