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Protecting our Democracy — Protecting Union Rights

Date: April 9, 2021

Voting rights are under attack nationwide as states pass voter suppression laws. These laws lead to significant burdens for eligible voters attempting to exercise their most fundamental constitutional right.

In 43 states across the country, there are at least 250 proposals that would, in one way or another, limit mail, early in-person and Election day voting by requiring stricter ID requirements.

On Thursday, March 25th, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law an overhaul of state elections that includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater control on how elections are run. Almost immediately, lawsuits were filed in federal court challenging the new law.

The war over voting access that has roiled Georgia is headed next to Texas, where Republican legislators are working through an omnibus elections overhaul package that would dramatically change the way some voters cast a ballot in future contests. The measure has been labeled a priority by both Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who controls the state Senate. It follows on the heels of election overhauls that passed in 2017 and failed in 2019.

Legislation passed in the House this past January that seeks to protect voter rights: H.R. 1 For the People Act of 2021.  This bill addresses voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government.

Specifically, the bill expands voter registration (e.g., automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (vote-by-mail and early voting). It also limits removing voters from voter rolls.

The bill requires states to establish independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting.

Additionally, the bill sets forth provisions related to election security, including sharing intelligence information with state election officials, supporting states in securing their election systems, developing a national strategy to protect U.S. democratic institutions, establishing in the legislative branch the National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions, and other provisions to improve the cybersecurity of election systems.

H.R.1 also addresses campaign finance, including expanding the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals, requiring additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending, requiring additional disclaimers regarding certain political advertising, and establishing an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices.

The bill addresses ethics in all three branches of government, including by requiring a code of conduct for Supreme Court Justices, prohibiting Members of the House from serving on the board of a for-profit entity, and establishing additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for federal employees and the White House.

A second piece of legislation that passed the House in March is H.R. 842 Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021 – The PRO Act. This bill expands various labor protections related to employees' rights to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace.

Among other things, it (1) revises the definitions of employeesupervisor, and employer to broaden the scope of individuals covered by the fair labor standards; (2) permits labor organizations to encourage participation of union members in strikes initiated by employees represented by a different labor organization (i.e., secondary strikes); and (3) prohibits employers from bringing claims against unions that conduct such secondary strikes.

The bill also allows collective bargaining agreements to require all employees represented by the bargaining unit to contribute fees to the labor organization for the cost of such representation, notwithstanding a state law to the contrary; and expands unfair labor practices to include prohibitions against replacement of, or discrimination against, workers who participate in strikes.

The bill makes it an unfair labor practice to require or coerce employees to attend employer meetings designed to discourage union membership and prohibits employers from entering into agreements with employees under which employees waive the right to pursue or to join collective or class-action litigation.

The bill further prohibits employers from taking adverse actions against an employee, including employees with management responsibilities, in response to that employee participating in protected activities related to the enforcement of the prohibitions against unfair labor practices (i.e., whistleblower protections). Such protected activities include:

  • providing information about a potential violation to an enforcement agency,
  • participating in an enforcement proceeding,
  • initiating a proceeding concerning an alleged violation or assisting in such a proceeding, or
  • refusing to participate in an activity the employee reasonably believes is a violation of labor laws.

Finally, the bill addresses the procedures for union representation elections, provides employees with the ability to vote in such elections remotely by telephone or the internet, modifies the protections against unfair labor practices that result in serious economic harm, and establishes penalties and permits injunctive relief against entities that fail to comply with National Labor Relations Board orders.

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