Legislation that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters asserts will make collective bargaining more fair at XPO Logistics [NYSE: XPO] and other trucking companies has the potential to gain traction in the current Congress – and it has the full support of President Joe Biden.
The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act was introduced in February and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he plans to take it up for consideration next week. The bill was approved by the House when it was introduced a year ago, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed not to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote, and President Trump said he would veto it.
But Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., an original co-sponsor of last year’s companion bill in the Senate, is making that call this year. And President Biden tweeted his support of the bill’s provisions on Sunday. Consequently, the legislation is getting more pushback than ever from companies that consider it a threat to their business model.
“In an attempt to increase union membership at any cost, the bill would make radical changes to well-established law, diminish employees’ rights to privacy and association, destroy businesses, particularly small ones, and threaten entire industries that have fueled innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation,” said Kristen Swearingen, who chairs the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW). The American Trucking Associations, the Truckload Carriers Association and the National Tank Truck Carriers are among CSW’s members.
“With this legislation, congressional Democrats are attempting to implement Obama-era labor law policies that were rejected by the judicial system, opposed on a bipartisan basis and/or abandoned by the agencies asked to enforce them,” Swearingen said.
Among the provisions included in the bill is a requirement that, once a union has been recognized or certified as the employees’ bargaining representative, the employer and the union begin bargaining within 10 days of the union submitting a written request.
“Even when workers succeed in forming a union, nearly half of newly formed unions fail to ever reach a contract with the employer,” according to the bill’s fact sheet. “The bill facilitates first contracts between companies and newly certified unions by requiring mediation and arbitration to settle disputes.”
According to the Teamsters, these and other provisions in the bill would allow the union to make headway in organizing drivers who move less-than-truckload freight at XPO Logistics.
“There are a handful of facilities at XPO where we won recognition to represent drivers and we still don’t have an agreement in place,” Greg Chockley, national campaign coordinator for Teamster organizing, told FreightWaves. “The PRO Act addresses those things.”
Chockley contends that once workers voted to organize at certain XPO locations, the company was able to avoid negotiating an actual contract. “The company played every delay tactic to not get to an agreement,” he said. “That dissuades others from jumping in, and certainly makes workers frustrated. But the company still has the ability to spend money, delay and deny the workers the benefit of an election.”
Chockley noted that because the PRO Act also attempts to prevent employers from misclassifying their employees as independent contractors, it would open up opportunities for organizing drayage drivers who haul containers to and from ports.
“We’ve proven that port drivers meet every test [for being classified as an employee versus an independent contractor] but we need the labor laws to catch up with this. Employers have found a way to put all the expense and responsibility on the driver while avoiding providing benefits. It’s brutal and it’s not right,” he said.
XPO did not respond to a request for comment. “The fact is XPO employees in the U.S. have overwhelmingly elected to remain union-free, including recently, when our employees voted down the union four times after four different organizing campaigns,” the company stated in October in response to similar allegations made by the International Transport Workers Federation.
Michael Lotito, who co-chairs the Workplace Policy Institute at the law firm Littler Mendelson, called the Pro Act “rotten to its core” and said it would upend the laws for both nonunion and unionized employers.
Lotito told FreightWaves he is skeptical of the bill’s chances of getting final approval in the Senate. However, “Joe Biden is all for it, so if it gets to his desk I believe it would make him the biggest pro-labor president in U.S. history.”
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