Pro-union, pro-worker bill faces uphill climb in Senate
By MARK GRUENBERG
PAI Staff Writer
Washington (PAI) — With a boost from Democratic President Joe Biden, the Democratic-run House last week passed the Protecting the Right To Organize (PRO) Act by a bipartisan vote of 225–206.
The PRO Act is a cornerstone of the AFL-CIO’s Workers First Agenda and represents the most wide-ranging, pro-worker rewrite of Labor law since the original National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
Five Republicans, notably Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), joined all but one Democrat — Texan Henry Cuellar – in passing the bill (HR842). Biden wants the evenly split Senate to pass it, too.
So the Senate – with 48 Democrats, two independents and 50 Republicans – will be a heavier lift, unless Democrats do away with or evade the filibuster, which allows a minority — in this case, Republicans — to hamstring virtually everything that isn’t a tax or spending bill, by requiring 60 votes for passage.
“We’re not going to let a minority in the Senate stop” the PRO Act, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka vowed in a video press conference with lawmakers and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights just before debate on the bill began in the House.
Trumka didn’t say how workers and their allies would accomplish that goal, other than to imply that opponents of the PRO Act would face trouble at the polls.
Opponents maneuvering to defeat the bill “do so at their peril,” Trumka warned.
“In an era of extreme polarization, nearly two-thirds of Americans – 65 percent – approve of Labor unions, so it’s not surprising workers would form unions if they were given the chance,” Trumka said. “That’s 60 million people knocking on our doors. The PRO Act would let them in.”
Biden didn’t mention politics in supporting the bill. Instead, he talked about economic equity, a theme many of the Democrats took up during the debate.
“I urge Congress to send the PRO Act to my desk so we can seize the opportunity to build a future that reflects working people’s courage and ambition, and offers not only good jobs with a real choice to join a union — but the dignity, equity, shared prosperity and common purpose the hardworking people who built this country and make it run deserve,” Biden said.
In his statement, released before the hours-long House debate, Biden reminded lawmakers the PRO Act “would dramatically enhance the power of workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
“As America works to recover from the devastating challenges of deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and reckoning on race that reveals deep disparities, we need to summon a new wave of worker power to create an economy that works for everyone,” Biden said.
GIVES WORKERS A STRONGER VOICE
“We owe it not only to those who have put in a lifetime of work, but to the next generation of workers who have only known an America of rising inequality and shrinking opportunity. All of us deserve to enjoy America’s promise in full — and our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to deliver it,” Biden declared.
“That starts with rebuilding unions. The middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class. Unions give workers a stronger voice to increase wages, improve the quality of jobs and protect job security, protect against racial and all other forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, and protect workers’ health, safety, and benefits in the workplace.
“Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union. They are critical to strengthening our economic competitiveness,” Biden summed up.
MIDDLE CLASS HAS A UNION LABEL ON IT
“We are engaged in a great act of patriotism for our country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during the later debate. “The middle class is the core of our democracy and the middle class has a union label on it.”
House speeches fell along predictable lines. Democrats laid out the economic and moral case to restore Labor law to its National Labor Relations Act roots, as Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), a longtime union organizer and former AFL-CIO deputy organizing director, put it:
“I agree we need to restore the balance of 1935,” when the NLRA declared it is federal policy to foster good labor-management relations by encouraging unionization, Levin told the Republicans, who spent their time trying to destroy the PRO Act by weakening amendments.
“What we’re changing is not 1935, but the way it (the law) has been gutted since by state and federal courts and by” Congress, Levin said.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), a Progressive Caucus leader, added “It’s time to end illegal power grabs by anti-union interests.”
Citing high CEO pay compared to that of median workers, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) declared: “This inequality cannot stand. This (bill) seeks to empower workers who build our country — and who are being oppressed within this plantation capitalist system.”
WOULD HELP ALL WORKERS
Democrats also made the point that strengthening workers’ right to organize, bargain and reach contracts — without bosses’ blockades, interference and outright labor law-breaking — would not only help workers, union and non-union, but the economy overall.
“In late 1970s, a corporate CEO made 30 to 40 times what a worker made,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) declared in a fiery speech that quickly turned into a viral video. “Now they make 300 to 400 times as much, but my colleagues on the other side of the aisle run around with their hair on fire” if lawmakers try to help workers.
“If we passed a tax cut for corporations,” he said, “they’d be getting in line for it.”
UNDO THE JANUS DECISION
The PRO Act would also undo the Supreme Court’s Janus decision that made every state and local government worker in the U.S. a potential “free rider,” able to benefit from the services and protections of a union contract without paying dues.
“As a small business owner and union member for 30 years, I know how important it is that every worker has a union,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT). “Giving workers a voice in their workplace and negotiating for good family-supporting wages and worker safety is crucial to a family’s ability to thrive.”
Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawaii) an Air Line Pilots Association member, told colleagues he knows “firsthand how unions can level the playing field. Unions give us a stronger voice to advocate for higher wages, better benefits, and for improved workplace conditions. Unions put the power in the hands of the workers. This bill will lift up American workers.”
‘Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers’
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan berates Republicans opposing the PRO Act
Washington – Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan eviscerated Republican lawmakers last week for largely opposing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to expand protections for Organized Labor.
“Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers in the United States of America! Heaven forbid we tilt the balance that has been going in the wrong direction for 50 years!” Ryan shouted from a lectern on the House floor on March 9. “Now, stop talking about Dr. Seuss, and start working with us on behalf of the American workers!”
(You can watch a video of Ryan’s speech at https://www.facebook.com/labortribune/videos/4020055144682098.) Ryan slammed conservatives who last week blamed “cancel culture” for a publisher’s decision to stop producing a handful of Seuss books with racist imagery but refused to consider the PRO Act.
“In the late ’70s, a CEO made 30 to 40 times what a worker made. Today it’s 300 to 400 times the worker,” Ryan said. “And our friends on the other side [are] running around with their hair on fire.”
EXPAND COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS
The PRO Act would expand collective bargaining rights, add penalties for employers who violate Labor laws and weaken so-called “right-to-work” laws in 27 states designed to weaken unions. President Biden has expressed support for the bill, but it faces a difficult path in the evenly divided Senate.
PRO Act supporters argue that the legislation will improve working conditions and give employees more power in workplace disputes. Opponents say the bill serves Organized Labor’s interests, like that’s a bad thing.
Ryan was not the only lawmaker to call out Republicans trying to defeat the bill.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said the Republican Party has tried to “falsely rebrand” itself as the “party of working people.” He then dismissed the notion with biting sarcasm.
“Please, if you are the party of working people, then I’m a stunt double doppelganger for Brad Pitt,” Pocan said. “I hope you enjoyed me in the ‘Fight Club.’”
(Information from the Washington Post.)