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S. 1633: RAISE Act


Is it a good idea to increase some employees’ pay even if it means undercutting union contracts?

Context and what the legislation does

Currently under the National Labor Relations Act, first passed in 1935, the wage level set in a union contract is set in stone. As opponents of this practice put it, it “is both a minimum and a maximum.”

The Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act would permit employers to give merit-based pay raises, even if those weren’t part of a collective bargaining agreement agreed to by the union.

It was introduced in the House on May 23 as bill number H.R. 2992, by Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD0). It was introduced in the Senate the same day as bill number S. 1633, by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

This is not to be confused with the identically acronymed — and more famous — RAISE Act about immigration: the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act. That’s a Republican-led bill endorsed by President Trump which would curtail legal immigration levels, which GovTrack Insider previously analyzed.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation helps the cream rise to the top, as the best employees receive pay raises and aren’t held back by their union-negotiated contracts.

“Great workers make businesses successful. When employers want to share profits with their hardest-working employees, regulations and union requirements shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way,” Rep. Johnson said in a press release. “The RAISE Act will provide employers flexibility to give hard-working employees a raise. Hard work should be rewarded, not discouraged.”

“There is nothing more American than rewarding hard work,” Sen. Rubio said in the same press release. “Union bosses should not be able to arbitrarily block a performance-based raise earned by a hard-working employee. The RAISE Act would bring greater fairness and opportunity to the modern workplace by giving American workers the freedom to earn more money for a job well done.”

What opponents say

Opponents argue that in practice the raises would be arbitrary at best, and potentially racist or sexist at worst.

“The RAISE Act would unfairly give employers the right to disregard negotiated contractual agreements and to arbitrarily grant pay increases in any amount to selected employees,” wrote Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights. “This could easily result in discrimination against certain employees, including older workers and employees of color, and expand the wage disparity between men and women in the workplace.”

“This bill would… undermine our system of privately bargained, legally binding agreements and instead, permit companies to violate contracts with workers and ignore previously agreed upon wages and benefits.”

Odds of passage

The Senate version has attracted two cosponsors, both Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

The House version has not yet attracted any cosponsors, even though ideologically it seems many Republicans would be on board. It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and Labor Committee.

Last updated Jun 6, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on May 23, 2019.


Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees Act or the RAISE Act

This bill declares that neither a labor organization's exclusive representation of employees in a bargaining unit, nor the terms of a collective bargaining contract or agreement entered into after enactment of this bill, shall prohibit an employer from paying an employee higher wages, pay, or other compensation than provided for in the contract or agreement.