During Senate HELP Hearing, Rosen Discusses Importance of Protecting Right to Unionize, Modernizing U.S. Labor Laws

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Mark Gaston Pearce, the Executive Director of the Workers’ Rights Institute at Georgetown University Law Center, and Dr. Heidi Shierholz, Senior Economist and Director of Policy at the Economic Policy Institute, about the importance of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act – legislation she co-sponsored – and the benefits of unionization, especially for workers of color and women. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here. 

ROSEN: Thank you, Chair Murray and Senator Braun. Really, thank you for holding this hearing today, so we could have a discussion about the importance, how important the right to organize is to ensure our good-paying, safe jobs for workers all across our states.  

I come from Nevada. Nevada, built by union workers. It runs today because of the work that union members do. The Nevada AFL-CIO has worked to raise wages, secure benefits, and ensure safe working conditions for workers all over our state. The SEIU and Teamsters locals in Nevada, well, it’s COVID right now, so they’re fighting for our nurses, our caregivers. They’re fighting for our convention workers, bus drivers, other men and women across the state. 

I want to say, [Nevada was] hardest hit in our nation with unemployment this last year. And I also want to mention that our Culinary Union 226 turned 85 years old last year and celebrated decades of providing hundreds of thousands of Nevada hospitality workers a pathway to the middle class.  

And during the darkest days of the pandemic, unions delivered food to furloughed workers, helped them sign up for unemployment benefits, ensured they have a right to return to their jobs as Nevada carefully reopens and welcomes back visitors. 

I am a former member of Culinary Union 226 myself. I’m proud of that. UNITE HERE, and our other Nevada unions are fighting to protect workers, secure benefits for their families. 

My grandmother was a lifelong member of the Baker and Confectioners Union. And so, I know a little bit about unions, and I want to thank all of you for fighting for that. 

Mr. Pearce, my colleagues are talking about these competing narratives. “Is the PRO Act really necessary?” “People will do the right thing.” “Businesses will do the right thing.” “Is [the PRO Act] necessary for achieving workplace democracy?” Can you explain that concept of workplace democracy, why it’s important, and how strengthening the right to organize can not only help us achieve a more democratic workplace, but I would say a more harmonious workplace? 

PEARCE: Thank you so much, Senator, for this opportunity. So often, I’m hearing that what unions are doing is undemocratic; it’s violating employees’ democratic rights. What folks fail to realize is that without legislation, there is no democracy in the workplace. It is the National Labor Relations Act that provided democracy in the workplace. And the whole idea was, balance the playing fields. Bring workers an opportunity to have a seat at the table.  

The PRO Act provides and facilitates collective bargaining in an enhanced way in environments that are comparable to the 21st century so that employees have a better chance to be able to bring democracy into the workplace. 

I talked about the value of the collective bargaining agreement. It is the contract, the constitution, of the workplace, mutually negotiated. It’s important because it provides abilities for people to have safe working conditions, employees to be able to be hired and retain their jobs with just cause standards and not be subject to cronyism or possible racism. All of those things that are vital to have workplace integrity and that importance of it. 

ROSEN: Well, you speak about some of this, and we know all too well that the pandemic this last year has really laid bare the disparities that have always existed. So, Dr. Shierholz, Black and Latino unemployment at their peaks were higher than unemployment for white workers, including in my home state of Nevada, which has one of the largest Latino populations in the country. Can you talk about the benefit of unionization for Black and Latino workers in particular, please?

SHIERHOLZ: Yeah, it’s really an important thing to highlight. I think that there is this idea, because unionization started and it didn’t have a lot of people of color originally, with mostly men, that there’s this idea that that’s still how it is and it could not be farther from the truth. 

The unions really do reflect the diversity of our country as it is today, and there’s enormous benefits to people of color of unions, so black workers and Hispanic workers get a bigger boost to being in unions than white workers do. All workers get a boost to being in unions, but it is more important, the boost is bigger for people of color. Black workers are more likely to be in unions than white workers, and you put all that together, unions are just an incredibly important force for racial, economic justice in this country. 

It’s just, if we take seriously this national discussion we’re having about racial, economic justice, a really important thing we have to do there is boost unionization. 

ROSEN: Thank you. I appreciate all of your time here today.