Delayed Housing Works victory shows need for PRO Act

Stuart Appelbaum

In December, by an overwhelming margin, 605 employees at Housing Works housing units, thrift stores, health care, and other locations throughout New York City finally won their campaign to join the RWDSU. It was one of the biggest union organizing wins anywhere in 2020, and it meant that Housing Works workers will finally be able to address the issues they faced including poor pay and benefits, unmanageable caseloads, lack of training, discrimination and harassment and health and safety problems. Finally, through a union contract and a voice on the job, these workers will be able to improve their jobs, their lives, and the care received by Housing Works clients.

The workers’ win shows their tenacity and dedication. They never wavered in this unnecessarily long process, which was stalled by their employer at every turn. They stayed strong as their employer continued to do everything possible to delay the union election, hoping to squash the workers’ momentum and eventually smother the organizing drive.

The fact that these workers stood together and won is inspiring and joyous, and stands as a testament to what working people can accomplish when they are united. The fact that it took two years––amid countless delays and obstacles put up by their employer––can only be described as a shame. It shouldn’t take workers who overwhelmingly want to exercise their right to join a union two years to accomplish their goal. Employers shouldn’t be allowed to continually game the system to try to squeeze the life out of organizing drives by their workers.

Legislation passed in the House last year, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, known as the PRO Act, would help ensure that workers aren’t denied their rights and that employers aren’t allowed to abuse the system to run out the clock on organizing drives. The PRO Act would amend labor laws to give workers more power during disputes at work, add penalties for companies that retaliate against workers who organize and grant some hundreds of thousands of workers collective-bargaining rights they don’t currently have. It would also weaken anti-worker “right-to-work” laws in 27 states that hurt unions.

With a Republican Senate and Trump in the White House, the PRO Act was considered dead on arrival. With the arrival of President Biden and a Democratic Congress in 2021, passage of the PRO Act is possible. After decades of the playing field leaning further and further to employers’ favor, now is an opportunity to restore some balance in the fight for workers’ rights and give more workers a chance at winning a union voice.

The huge victory at Housing Works showed the power workers have when they stand united, but it also showed the need to level the playing field between workers and their employers when it comes to union and worker rights. When workers want to join a union, it shouldn’t take years. Workers should be free to exercise their rights without employer interference, intimidation, and delay. The PRO Act needs to be a top legislative priority in 2021, so that more workers can win union representation and better lives for themselves and their families.