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Community Perspective

Supporting the PRO Act for Fairbanks and our future

Jobs. Well-paying, middle-class jobs. We hear about them every election cycle. Seldom do we get a “how” from the people claiming to have the answers.

Recently, HR 842, better known as the PRO Act (Protect the Right to Organize), passed the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate is expected to take it up this spring. Our very own Rep. Don Young supported the act in the U.S. House, one of five Republicans to do so.

The PRO Act is the most significant piece of pro-labor legislation since the 1930s. If passed, the PRO Act would rebalance the scale upon which big business and corporate interests have had their finger on for far too long at the expense of working people.

The PRO Act addresses the adverse conditions Alaska’s workers face while trying to organize or access basic protections like workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.

Since the Great Depression, research has shown that economic equity in the workplace has trended closely with the growth or decline in union density. The ability for workers to claim their own power through collective bargaining has been eroded over time, as well as the ability to negotiate for better pay and benefits, exacerbating the income gap between the working poor and the wealthy. More and more workers today, especially young workers, feel that a good job and a decent career are beyond their reach.

Our city is hurting. Our population is declining, the middle class is shrinking, and the pandemic has radically altered our economy. People are right to talk about struggling small businesses, there is less and less money flowing into mom and pop establishments in these hard times. Why? Working people can’t afford to spend like they used to in their community because stagnant wage growth has led to diminished purchasing power.

With the passage of the PRO Act, the playing field for workplace organizing will be fairer. More collective bargaining agreements mean overall higher wages, better access to insurance, safer workplaces, and more money circulating in our economy, in restaurants, car dealerships, snowmachine dealers, and other local businesses. A steady paycheck that does more than result in basic survival is the engine of our local economy.

Unions helped build this city, literally. And it’s time for unions to rebuild it.

The popularity of unions is at 65%, one of the highest marks since unions helped pass OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) in 1971. 60 million non-union workers say they would vote for a voice on the job today if given the chance. Unions are popular because folks want safe jobs, fair wages, health care, and a secure retirement.

The last 50 years in Fairbanks have been prosperous. We need to be sure that our future industries and employers are held to our community standards, honor the dignity of work, and pay a decent wage to support a middle-class lifestyle. The PRO Act is a crucial step towards that accountability.

So next time a politician comes a-knocking, talking about middle class jobs and better wages in an election year, ask them, “Where did you stand on the PRO Act?”

Doug Tansy is assistant business manager of IBEW Local 1547.

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