Merkley Joins Warren, Senate Colleagues on Bill to Protect Worker Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley on Wednesday joined U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) as a cosponsor of the Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act, to prohibit states from introducing or enforcing laws that make it harder for workers to form unions and fight for higher wages and better working conditions.

“The key question for trade deals is whether they create good-paying jobs for working Americans, or destroy good-paying jobs. For the last two decades, NAFTA has clearly failed this test,” Merkley said. “So-called ‘right-to-work’ laws also fail that test. Under these laws, employees in unionized workplaces reap the benefits of union membership — such as the ability to negotiate a fair wage, workplace protections, and essential benefits — without contributing to it. Meanwhile, the union is deprived of funds and is not able to effectively advocate for employees.

“This outcome is, of course, the reason that big business lobbyists and their friends in government push for these laws. If we want to create good-paying jobs for working Americans, we need to use the renegotiation of NAFTA as an opportunity to prevent state governments from undermining unions’ ability to advocate for employee wages, benefits, and protections.”

The Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act would repeal Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, which currently gives states the ability to ban union security agreements — so-called “right-to-work” laws. The introduction comes days before the third round of renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are set to take place in Ottawa. An evaluation of state “right-to-work” laws is part of the renegotiation of NAFTA given their impact on worker rights and workplace protections.

Additional Senate cosponsors include Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) on Wednesday announced that he will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives, along with five of his colleagues.

In 1947, Section 14(b) of the Taft Hartley Act (an Act that passed by overriding President Truman’s veto) allowed states to pass legislation that eliminates the ability of unions to collect dues from those who benefit from union contracts.  The result encourages a race to the bottom, as states compete to attract employers by offering weak labor laws and, as a result, lower wages.