Kansas labor unions rally in support of sweeping reform bill, workers’ rights

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas labor unions are rising up in support of the “PRO Act,” a sweeping labor reform bill that’s moving through Congress.

Labor union leaders joined in an ongoing strike held by Frito-Lay workers in Topeka on Friday.

The company produces popular snacks, like Doritos and Cheetos. One of its staple tag lines is “Good Fun!” but workers that are protesting long hours, or “suicide shifts,” said it’s anything but.

“Overtime work. No pay. No extra benefits” said Donna Leehane, a member of SPEEA, a technical and professional labor union in Wichita.

Leehane’s organization is responsible for representing thousands of workers in negotiations for buyout offers with Spirit Aerosystems, after job cuts during the coronavirus pandemic.

The retired Spirit-Boeing worker said she knows firsthand what it’s like when companies don’t consider their employees’ needs first.

“A lot of companies, they have a tendency to do just exactly what they need to do to meet the demands of the product that they produce,” she said.

That’s why Leehane said it’s important for legislation to be passed to help workers organize and “build back better” with unions, a slogan that’s been used in the movement to support the “PRO Act,” or the Protecting the Right to Organize Act.

The Act is aimed at protecting and empowering workers to exercise their rights. It’s set to make some major changes for states across the country and in Kansas.

“The Pro-act is some of the best legislation since the Great Depression,” said John Nave, Executive Vice President of Kansas AFL-CIO.

For decades, Kansas has been a “right to work” state, but Nave said that could change with the new bill.

Among the many changes the legislation is set to make, it allows unions to override “right to work” laws. More than two dozen states in the U.S. have those laws in place. That means no one in Kansas can be forced to join a labor union as a condition of employment.

Nave and Leehane said workers are still covered under the wage and benefits provisions of the union contract, even though they choose not to pay dues.

However, with the PRO Act, unions could collect dues from people who decide to opt-out, which leaders like Nave said would help strengthen their collective bargaining power, especially when organizing workers.

“It gives all working families, all union families the ability to have a voice at the table,” he said.

The PRO Act also seeks to hold companies accountable, limiting their interference in union elections, and establishing monetary penalties for a company or executive violating workers’ rights.

You get to speak and are clearly heard. You have rights that you can stand up against with your employers.

To read more about the PRO Act, click here.

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