AFL-CIO signals support to nix Senate filibuster

Greg Nash

AFL-CIO on Thursday called for the Senate to abolish the filibuster if it prevents Democrats from moving forward with a pro-worker agenda. 

“For decades, working people have paid the price for corporate-first government,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Time and again, the Senate’s arcane rules have been used to keep working people from claiming the basic rights and dignities that we’ve earned.

The labor group’s executive council wrote in a statement that the House-passed PRO Act gives Senate Republicans the chance to show if they are ready to work for workers. But, they noted, the filibuster could get in the way of enacting a “Workers First Agenda.” 

“But there simply is no time for delay or for paralysis. And should a minority in the Senate seek to hide behind the filibuster—to obstruct, to interpose that artifact of Jim Crow between the American people and the change we voted for—the path forward for the leadership of the Senate must be clear,” the council wrote.

The PRO-Act, a bill aimed at strengthening workers’ rights to unionize, is labor groups’ top legislative priority. It passed the House this week in a mostly party-line vote.

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, bolster collective bargaining agreements and go after right-to-work laws.

AFL-CIO’s council also called on the Senate to work with President Biden and the House to enact legislation for American workers. 

“But if that proves to be impossible under the Senate’s current rules—we call for swift and necessary changes to those rules so that the will of the people of the United States expressed in the 2020 elections can be turned into the progress our country and our people desperately need,” the council wrote. 

AFL-CIO sent a letter to the Senate in 2012 calling for reforms. The council said that since then, the filibuster has blocked labor law reform, equal pay for women and other legislation.

“[W]e know that the American Rescue Plan is only law because senators used a loophole to overcome the roadblock of a threatened filibuster,” the council wrote, adding that the loophole was “small” because Congress wasn’t able to raise the minimum wage in the package. 

The American Rescue Plan — Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package — includes funding for direct payments, vaccine distribution efforts, school reopenings, enhanced unemployment benefits, an expansion of the child tax credit and an expansion of ObamaCare, among other provisions.

Biden signed the legislation into law Thursday, in what was viewed as his first legislative win of his presidency. The president, before entering office, vowed to act swiftly to combat the medical and economic effects of the pandemic after hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from the disease and millions still remain unemployed. 

Biden was endorsed by several major workers unions during his 2020 campaign and has promised to champion the rights of laborers. However, thus far he has signaled that he is is against changing the rules around the legislative filibuster.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated to reporters on Monday that he opposes any tweaks to the Senate rule.

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