Republicans invoke UAW scandal in opposing pro-union legislation

Riley Beggin, The Detroit News on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — Legislation that would dramatically change U.S. labor laws is on a fast track for a vote in the House later this week.

During a Monday hearing on the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, Democrats argued the bill is a long-overdue update that would even the scales in collective bargaining, which they say is currently tilted in favor of employers.

Congressional Republicans argued it would enable corruption and diminish worker freedom, frequently citing the embezzlement, bribery, money laundering and other charges against former United Auto Workers leaders as a caution against giving unions more power.

"Since the Democrats last introduced this bill, a federal probe uncovered almost a decade of rampant corruption among the senior ranks of the United Auto Workers Union," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina. "The bill before us makes union bosses more powerful but less accountable to workers, increasing the risk of union corruption and wrongdoing."

The bill — which is co-sponsored by all of Michigan's Democratic representatives and has been opposed in the past by all of the state's Republican members — would eliminate state right-to-work laws, set a "joint employer" standard that would allow franchisee workers to organize with their parent company, give the National Labor Relations Board the ability to levy fines up to $50,000 against businesses who break labor laws and more.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, argued the problems that have plagued the UAW's top brass can be compared with corporate corruption as an exception to the rule.

"The (UAW leaders) who have gotten in trouble have been corrupted by the company" and stopped representing the interests of workers, Raskin argued. "That doesn't translate into a condemnation of all unions."

The UAW is moving towards a settlement in the ongoing federal investigation that has led to more than a dozen convictions and uncovered a wide range of illegal conduct by auto industry leaders, including union leaders taking bribes from automakers, stealing union funds and spending the money on luxuries such as golf trips, vacation homes and expensive cigars.


Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the UAW, told The Detroit News via email Monday that “there have been members of Congress indicted for wrongdoing and members of Corporations indicted for wrongdoing — and rightfully so."

Those institutions, like the UAW, have made changes in order to move forward, he said. "The fact is the PRO Act actually gives power to workers to have a voice with management on their wages, benefits and health and safety in the workplace. It actually increases the power and voice of individual workers which is the right and ethically sound thing to do.”

The legislation would also bar employers from holding mandatory meetings designed to convince employees not to join the union; allow unions to organize using a "card check" system that shows a majority of employees support unionization if the employer is found to have broken labor laws by interfering in the election; and would require employers to give unions access to employees' personal information such as phone numbers and email addresses in the case of an election.

Republicans said these measures prioritize union leaders over the interests of small businesses and workers who would prefer not to be a part of a union. Democrats argued they protect the freedom to choose whether to join a union without intimidation.

The Biden administration expressed their support for the bill in an official statement released Monday from the Office of Management and Budget.

"America was not built by Wall Street. It was built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class. Unions put power in the hands of workers," the statement read. "The PRO Act will strengthen our democracy and advance dignity in the workplace."

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