South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and 13 of his counterparts in other states are urging federal legislators to oppose a measure they say would gut right-to-work laws that have weakened organized labor, particularly in the South.
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, would force employees in unionized workplaces to pay union dues even if they don't want to become members, allowing organized labor to cover the costs of collective bargaining. That would override right-to-work laws in 27 states, including South Carolina, which let employees opt out of paying dues if they don't want to join a union.
"This bill would ... make it much easier to force employees to join unions and pay dues in order to keep their jobs," Wilson said in a statement. "Coercion to join a labor union is reprehensible and should not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form."
The PRO Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last month and is now being considered by the Senate. Its support has largely followed party lines, with Democrats in favor of the measure and Republicans opposed.
Wilson and the others said the bill "would erase important legal protections for employees and send a cascade of money to unions, despite objection by employees."
Labor leaders said the right-to-work laws give employers an unfair advantage by making organizing efforts more difficult and expensive.
"The PRO Act will empower workers to exercise our freedom to organize and negotiate for better wages and working conditions," Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement. "It will remove archaic barriers to organizing, increase worker protections and strengthen the institutions that hold corporations accountable. It will repeal the 'right-to-work' laws that lead to lower wages, fewer benefits and more dangerous workplaces."
The bill's other measures would: make it illegal for employers to hold mandatory meetings to put anti-union pressure on workers; let workers cast union ballots at sites other than the workplace; and allow arbitration to settle contract differences among employers and newly formed unions.
South Carolina has the nation's lowest union membership rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor unions represented 3.8 percent of the workforce in the Palmetto State in 2020. That figure represents workers who are union members and those who are covered by collective bargaining agreements even if they haven't joined a union. The number of South Carolina workers who are members of a union was 2.7 percent last year.
The letter was sent to Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, both Democrats, and Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.
Along with Wilson, attorneys general in the following states signed the letter: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and West Virginia. All of those states have passed right-to-work laws.