Manchin throws support behind union-backed PRO Act

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Monday threw his support behind the PRO Act, union-backed legislation to promote labor organizing.

The PRO Act would block “right-to-work” laws, which allow people who benefit from union representation to opt out of membership and paying dues, and impose tougher restrictions on companies seeking to prevent unionization efforts.

It passed in the House last month in a narrow, party-line vote of 225-206, with just five GOP members supporting it and one Democrat voting against.

Machin’s support is significant because he is a centrist whose vote is key in a Senate evenly divided with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. But his support doesn’t ensure the measure will be law given that a handful of other Democrats have yet to voice support for the measure.

Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have yet to co-sponsor the bill.

In addition, Manchin specified that he hopes to advance it through a bipartisan legislative process, meaning support from at least 10 GOP senators would be necessary, an unlikely outcome.

“Fifty percent of unions fail in their first year of organizing. This legislation will level the playing field,” Manchin said at a National Press Club virtual event on climate change, adding that he would be a co-sponsor of the bill.

While President Biden included the PRO Act in his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, Republicans are not expected to include it in their smaller counterproposal.

The Democratic backup plan for advancing infrastructure legislation without GOP support, by using budget reconciliation to sidestep the filibuster, includes strict limitations on what kind of legislation can be included under the rules. The PRO Act is very unlikely to pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian.

Still, the move was a win for organized labor, which has made the bill a centerpiece of its agenda.

“If I heard him correctly, I think we just made some history here with respect to the Pro act,” United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts Jr. said at the event following Manchin’s announcement.

“That’s part of what we’re suggesting here today as what needs to happen in Appalachia.”

Manchin’s decisions led to an outcry from business groups, which have spoken out strongly against the legislation.

“It is very disappointing that Senator Manchin has chosen to side with union bosses over West Virginia’s workers and small businesses, especially during a time of economic turmoil,” said Kristen Swearingen, the chair of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a coalition of 600 businesses that oppose pro-union legislation.

Updated at 6:07 p.m.

Tags Angus King Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Labor Mark Kelly Mark Warner PRO Act Unions
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