Pro-union bill passes House, setting up lobbying battle in Senate

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The House late Tuesday passed labor groups’ top legislative priority, a bill aimed at strengthening workers’ rights to unionize, setting the stage for a lobbying battle in the Senate.

The mostly party-line House vote sends the legislation, known as the PRO Act, to the Senate, where getting 10 Republicans on board for its approval will be an uphill battle.

“If progress is delayed or denied yet again, the suffering of the past year will only get worse and working people will continue to pay the price of failed leadership,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “But if the Senate steps up to the plate and delivers generational change—the change we voted for—we will emerge from this crisis stronger than before.” 

Republicans are also being lobbied to oppose the bill by business groups, which largely see the legislation as a threat to the economy.

The bill would stiffen penalties for employers who violate workers’ rights, while strengthening protections for employees against retaliation. It would also make changes to the union election process and bolster collective bargaining agreements.

“The PRO Act would threaten worker privacy, force employees to pay union dues or lose their jobs, and trample free speech rights. The Chamber will fight to ensure this wish list of union-sponsored priorities fails in the Senate and never becomes law,” said Suzanne Clark, president and CEO-elect of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The measure would also go after right-to-work laws found in more than half of states. Labor groups have railed against the state measures, arguing they purposely make it harder for workers to form unions.

“The PRO Act would fundamentally redefine labor relations,” said David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation. “This is a laundry list of extreme labor proposals that are both individually and collectively extremely harmful to employees, employers and the American economy.” 

But unions argue that the PRO Act gives workers more power in the economy.

The president Service Employees International Union, which is made up of 2 million members, said it would ensure working people are at the center of the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The PRO Act will begin to help change the rules that allow corporate CEOs to behave badly when we stand together for higher wages, benefits and a seat at the table. This bill will help put the power back into the hands of working people by expanding their right to organize, strengthening their access to fair union elections and punishing employers who violate workers’ rights,” Mary Kay Henry said in a statement.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has more than 1 million members, also vowed to continue to fight for the PRO Act. 

“The PRO Act would help unrig the system and neutralize unscrupulous employers who use coercion, intimidation tactics and retaliatory threats against workers trying to organize. You shouldn’t fear for your job simply for exercising the right to band together in the workplace,” President Lee Saunders said.

Five Republicans (Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), John Katko (N.Y.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Jeff Van Drew (N.J.) and Don Young (Alaska)) voted for the legislation while one Democrat (Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas)) opposed it. 

Updated on March 11 at 10:06 a.m.

Tags AFL–CIO Brian Fitzpatrick Chris Smith Don Young Employee Free Choice Act House Jeff Van Drew John Katko Labor Richard Trumka Right-to-work law Senate Trade union

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