Last night, betrayed by far right Texas Blue Dog Henry Cuellar, but backed by 5 Republicans, House Democrats passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, 225-206. A top priority for the labor movement and their allies, the bill would penalize companies that violate labor laws.
Just before voting, AOC sent an e-mail to her supporters noting that "The rights of workers have been under attack for decades, and the share of workers who are part of a union has been on the decline since the 1980s. The PRO Act would empower employees to stand together and organize for better working conditions. And, the bill would help essential workers secure better wages, paid leave, and hazard pay as the pandemic rages on.
And right after the vote, Marie Newman explained to her constituents why she was so enthusiastic in her support for the bill: "For far too long, the rights of millions of American workers have been undermined and attacked in this country. American workers, many of whom have been on the frontlines of this pandemic since day one, continue to be forced to work with lousy benefits, in unsafe conditions, and for insufficient pay because they don’t have the ability to organize for stronger rights. If we want to rebuild our economy, we have to start by supporting the men and women who are the backbone of our economy-- America’s union workers. With the passage of the PRO Act, we are ensuring every worker will not only know their rights but have every tool at their disposal to organize together for fair wages and safe working conditions. This comprehensive legislation will ensure our American workers have a voice because when unions are strong-- our country, our city and our communities are strong."
The bill passed with one of Newman's amendments which which will require that all notices informing workers of their rights to organize be posted in the languages spoken by the employees.
Last night, reporting or the NY Times right after passage, Nick Fandos noted that the GOP will filibuster the bill and kill it in the Senate. He called the bill "the most significant expansion of labor rights since the New Deal," noting that it "would neutralize right-to-work laws in 27 states and bolster workers’ ability to organize after years of eroding clout... It would also make it harder for companies like Uber and Lyft to classify workers as independent contractors, paving the way for a potentially substantial expansion in the pool of workers eligible to unionize."
Sounds great, right? " Fandos warned that "The measure was all but certain to run into a brick wall of opposition in the Senate, where 60 votes would be needed to advance it past a filibuster and Republicans are broadly opposed." How is that possible? It's possible because neither Joe Manchin (D-WV) nor Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is capable of comprehending the difference between giving the minority a voice and giving the minority party a veto. This is just another example of why the legislative filibuster must be abolished or reformed.
Business groups and most Republicans fiercely oppose the measure, arguing that it is a giveaway to union leaders by Democrats looking for campaign donations. They contend that it would hurt workers, trample on states’ rights and decimate businesses at a time when thousands of small companies have folded because of the economic turmoil surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill is “radical, backward-looking legislation, which will diminish the rights of workers and employers while harming the economy and providing a political gift to labor unions and their special interests,” Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, said during the House’s debate.
...“Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers in the United States of America,” Representative Tim Ryan, Democrat of Ohio, bellowed across the House floor on Tuesday, addressing Republicans who lined up to oppose the measure. The G.O.P., he said, seemed more interested in tax cuts and moaning about “cancel culture” than helping American pocketbooks.
“Stop talking about Dr. Seuss and start working with us on American workers!” he added.
...“The PRO Act is a civil rights act,” Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in a recent interview. “If you have a union contract, everyone is making the same wages. There’s no differential between men and women, Black and white. There are protections for L.G.B.T.Q., for women. The law doesn’t always protect them, their contracts do.”
...The measure has alarmed business owners and their supporters, who fear it could undo decades’ worth of gains that have given them a powerful hand in unionization elections. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group, warned lawmakers in a letter opposing the bill that it would “eliminate any sense of balance” in federal labor law since it was codified in the New Deal of the 1930s.
“At a time when thousands of small businesses are struggling to keep their doors open and employees retained during the Covid pandemic, this bill would force businesses to close permanently and lay off workers,” said Kristen Swearingen, the leader of Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a group opposed to the bill that represents hundreds of industry organizations.
Of particular concern, opponents said, would be the elimination of right-to-work laws in dozens of states that have barred workers from negotiating contracts that require all members of the work force-- even those who do not join the union-- to pay dues. The state laws have effectively constrained the resources available to unions and helped diminish their political clout.
But Jake Rosenfeld, a sociologist who studies unions at Washington University in St. Louis, suggested Democrats’ legislation was less drastic than some Republicans were making it out to be.
“It’s not as if the United States is going to turn into Sweden any time soon when it comes to worker power,” he said. “This bill still doesn’t alter the fundamental workplace arrangements in any way. What it does is try to honor the letter of the National Labor Relations Act and let workers who want actual representation have a fair shot.”
After the bill passed the House I spoke with Erica Smith, the progressive candidate for the open North Carolina Senate seat. "If we're going to build a 21st century middle class," she told me, "it's going to coincide with the rise of unions. We have a union crisis in North Carolina with under 3% of our workforce being unionized. It's no coincidence that this crisis has occured at the very same time we've been plagued by income inequality. The PRO Act is a critical piece of legislation to back our workers and strengthen our economy. Under Senator Burr and Senator Tillis the NC delegation hasn't lifted a finger to defend the dignity of work or the dignity of the workers doing that work. That will end in 2022 when I'm elected."
This morning, California House candidate (Riverside County), Liam O'Mara, noted that "As the old folk song asks, Which side are you on? Ken Calvert, like most Republican electeds, is for the bosses, the big corporations, the oligarchs who own him. I am not. We deserve a Congress that puts Main Street and working families first-- a Congress which recognizes that worker power is the bedrock of our success, and what created the middle class lifestyle we've had since the 1950s. We need to get the PRO Act through the Senate somehow, and give working people a chance to fight for a better life." Pretty clear what voters will be choosing next year.