Pro-union bill draws 2020 battle lines

Pro-union bill draws 2020 battle lines
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Democrats and their labor allies are gearing up for a 2020 fight against business groups over legislation to protect workers’ rights to unionize.

The Democratic-controlled House is voting Thursday on the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). The bill is dead on arrival in the Republican Senate, but it’s seen as a critical messaging bill for Democrats and union groups looking to bring their supporters to the polls. And the bill is also mobilizing business groups who have railed against the measure as a wish list for Big Labor.

The bill would make it easier for workers to certify unions, change how employers classify workers, prevent workers from being denied rights because of immigration status, eliminate state right-to-work laws and block laws that protect employees from not paying union dues, among other measures.

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The bill is one of the most comprehensive labor packages in years. And the fight over the bill will play out over the 2020 election, with high stakes for both sides.

For unions, it has been an important rallying cry with membership dropping in recent years.

“Working people across the country have been taking direct action together to address issues at work in a way that we haven’t seen for over 30 years. While they have made some gains, they have been held back by our broken, outdated labor laws,” Beth Allen, communications director at the Communications Workers of America, told The Hill. “The PRO Act restores balance to our system.”

Union groups have been pressuring lawmakers to back the bill.

“Restoring our middle class is dependent on strengthening the collective power of workers to negotiate for better pay and working conditions,” William Samuel, the AFL-CIO director of government affairs, wrote last week in a letter urging lawmakers to back the bill.

Allies say it is the most important labor bill in years, and lawmakers pressed House leaders last year to bring the bill up for a vote.

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The House version was sponsored by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottHouse passes bill to allow private lawsuits against public schools for discriminatory practices Pelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief This week: House returns for pre-election sprint MORE (D-Va.) and has 218 co-sponsors, including three Republicans: Reps. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum DCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program 2020 Global Tiger Day comes with good news, but Congress still has work to do MORE (Pa.), Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithChina sanctioning Rubio, Cruz in retaliatory move over Hong Kong China sanctions Cruz, Rubio, others over Xinjiang legislation New Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries MORE (N.J.) and Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.), a former Democrat who switched parties last month.

The bill is seen as particularly important for Democrats’ hopes of retaking the Midwestern states where President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE won over rank-and-file union workers in 2016 even as their leadership backed Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Warning signs flash for Lindsey Graham in South Carolina MORE.

The bill has also been embraced by many of the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates. Among the 40 co-sponsors of the upper chamber’s version from Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump health officials grilled over reports of politics in COVID-19 response CDC director pushes back on Caputo claim of 'resistance unit' at agency The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D-Wash.) are Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNYT editorial board remembers Ginsburg: She 'will forever have two legacies' Two GOP governors urge Republicans to hold off on Supreme Court nominee Sanders knocks McConnell: He's going against Ginsburg's 'dying wishes' MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden's fiscal program: What is the likely market impact? Warren, Schumer introduce plan for next president to cancel ,000 in student debt The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon MORE (D-Mass.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill EPA delivers win for ethanol industry angered by waivers to refiners It's time for newspapers to stop endorsing presidential candidates MORE (D-Minn.), who are all running for president.

Warren included the bill in her labor plan released in October. Sanders’s own proposals, which aim to double union membership, also incorporate many of the PRO Act’s provisions.

“If we’re talking about growing wages, providing health care to all people, having a progressive tax system, the trade union movement must be in the middle of all of those discussions,” Sanders said at a speech to the International Association of Machinists in April.

Both former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Bogeymen of the far left deserve a place in any Biden administration Overnight Defense: Woodward book causes new firestorm | Book says Trump lashed out at generals, told Woodward about secret weapons system | US withdrawing thousands of troops from Iraq MORE and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Trump expects to nominate woman to replace Ginsburg next week Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral MORE support the bill as well, according to their presidential campaign websites.

“Biden strongly supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act’s (PRO Act) provisions instituting financial penalties on companies that interfere with workers’ organizing efforts, including firing or otherwise retaliating against workers,” Biden’s website reads.

Business groups, though, have also stepped up their fight against the bill, which they warn would be calamitous for employers.

“The unions are selling this as an answer to their organizing problems. It literally is every bad idea in employment policy we’ve heard about in the last 30 years,” Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The Hill.

“The PRO Act is a grab bag of harmful provisions to small businesses and employees. It’s like the ghost of labor issues past,” said Matt Haller, the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) senior vice president of government relations and public affairs.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which includes the National Retail Federation (NRF), the Chamber and the IFA, is pushing back against the bill.

“We’ve been engaged with our coalition partners, coordinating lobbying visits on the Hill, talking to Democrats and Republicans about the harm this bill would do to the workplace and how misguided it is. We’re all communicating with our grassroots and making sure that employers don’t take this for granted,” said David French, senior vice president for government relations at the NRF.

And even though the bill is unlikely to see movement in the Senate, it has become an important litmus test for those on both sides.

“For decades, abusive employers have been able to violate federal labor laws with relative impunity, making it more difficult for workers to organize and negotiate for fair pay, benefits and working conditions,” the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees wrote in a letter to lawmakers last week urging their support.

“This is a key issue for us. We’re not going to give anyone a free pass on this just because it’s not going to become law. The business community is going to be looking to see who signs on to such a radical proposal, and that’s going to be on our score card,” said Glenn Spencer, senior vice president of the employment policy division at the Chamber.

Some questioned if the bill could spell trouble for vulnerable Democrats in typically Republican districts.

“Democrats are making some of their new members who flipped Republican districts walk a plank on this bill,” Freedman said.

A lobbyist who asked not to be identified also said Democrats should be cautious about the bill.

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“I could see this becoming an issue politically for the DCCC Frontline Democrats in November,” the lobbyist said, referencing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s most vulnerable members.

But Rep. Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinInslee calls Biden climate plan 'perfect for the moment' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money House Democrats add some 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking major amendment MORE (D-Mich.), vice chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, pushed back on the idea that the bill could hurt vulnerable Democrats.

“While corporate interests may attack Democrats for supporting workers’ rights, voters will not,” Levin told The Hill. “The PRO Act is a referendum about who supports workers and our rights to form unions and bargain collectively. This is a core part of our American freedoms of speech and assembly, and voters know this.”

Levin said that despite declining membership, polls show Americans “have a more favorable view of unions than they have in half a century.”

Both sides are looking to the election and beyond.

“Even though it’s not going to pass the Senate this year, it sets a precedent in place for Congress to come back to perhaps in the next Congress,” French said.

The fact leading presidential candidates have endorsed the bill “tells you this issue is not going to go away,” added Spencer.

Updated at 11:25 a.m.