Manchin is right on the filibuster, but wrong on the PRO Act
When it comes to the filibuster, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) reflects his home state. Opinion polling shows that strong majorities of West Virginians oppose ending the filibuster, as does Manchin, who recently wrote in his state’s largest newspaper, “If I can’t go home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.”
Yet on another important issue before the Senate, Manchin is on the wrong side of West Virginia. After pressure from organized labor, Manchin recently agreed to support their number one priority, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) — a bill that can be described only as a labor union wish list. This comes as the Mountain State moves toward granting greater freedom to workers and less power to labor unions.
The PRO Act is the most extreme union giveaway in generations. It would allow unions in every state to get private sector workers fired for not paying dues — something 27 states currently ban. It would force almost all independent workers to be reclassified as “employees,” a gift to unions looking to organize the gig economy. These and other harmful provisions benefit organized labor at the expense of workers and job creators.
Meanwhile, the West Virginia Legislature is aiming to protect workers and taxpayers, most notably through two laws that were scheduled to take effect this month — before unions sued to obtain an injunction on one.
The first is the West Virginia Employment Law Worker Classification Act, which benefits those working for themselves as independent contractors. The law makes it easier for entrepreneurs to take this route by providing a clearer differentiation between traditional employment and independent contracting. This approach is the opposite of the PRO Act, which would force many independent workers to be employees and prevent them from being their own boss.
The idea is a reaction to California’s Assembly Bill 5, which the PRO Act would essentially nationalize. California’s law has wreaked so much havoc that even the bill’s sponsor said it went too far and sponsored another bill creating carve-outs to lessen its damage. In the end, even those exemptions were not enough to fix the law, leading Californians to adopt a ballot proposal that further neutered the bill. That proposal passed by a 17-point margin. The PRO Act’s language mirrors the original version of the disastrous California bill with none of the exemptions.
West Virginia lawmakers also passed a paycheck protection bill that will safeguard public employees’ paychecks and stop the government from acting as bill collector for unions. State Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump (R) said the legislation was needed because “It is an unwarranted use of public resources to have the state or the county or the school board or the municipal government become the collection agent for all these various organizations.”
He highlighted the fact that collections by the government aren’t needed, stating, “[A]nyone can set up on his or her checking account at a bank or a financial institution an automatic withdrawal. People have subscriptions to things that roll up every month.”
That may seem like common sense to many people, but the bill has been strongly opposed by union leaders in the state. On June 14, a collection of unions successfully blocked implementation of this act through an injunction.
These changes in West Virginia come a year after the state Supreme Court upheld West Virginia’s right-to-work law. Passed in 2016, the Workplace Freedom Act gave nearly 42,000 private sector workers the right to refuse to pay union fees without being fired for that choice. Yet that ruling, and the will of the people as expressed by state lawmakers, would be meaningless if the PRO Act passes. Overnight, private-sector workers would lose the freedom to choose whether to join or pay a union.
If passed, the PRO Act would render pro-worker policies moot, putting power back in the hands of labor unions. Garrett Ballengee, the executive director of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, notes that the federal law is the opposite of what West Virginians want: “[W]ith the recent implementation of right-to-work in West Virginia and passage of a paycheck protection bill, it is obvious that the will of the average West Virginian is as expressed through the state’s legislative body.”
By supporting the PRO Act, Manchin is rejecting the will of those in his home state. While his protection of the filibuster may mean that the PRO Act does not get a direct vote, there is talk of including its provisions in other legislation that the filibuster cannot block. One thing is certain: If Manchin votes for those bills, he won’t be able to go home and explain it.
Steve Delie is the director of labor policy and Workers for Opportunity at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich. F. Vincent Vernuccio is a senior fellow at the center.