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Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), then a presidential primary candidate, delivered a campaign speech at the Iowa State Fair on August 10, 2019. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), then a presidential primary candidate, delivered a campaign speech at the Iowa State Fair on August 10, 2019. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

'Stop Talking About Dr. Seuss,' Tim Ryan Implores GOP, 'And Start Working With Us on Behalf of the American Workers'

His comments came ahead of a House vote on the PRO Act, which aims to protect the rights of workers to unionize and collectively bargain for better pay, benefits, and working conditions.

Jessica Corbett

A visibly frustrated Rep. Tim Ryan took to the House floor on Tuesday and blasted congressional Republicans for focusing on children's books instead of improving the rights of working Americans amid concurrent public health and economic crises.

Ahead of an expected vote on the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, the Ohio Democrat delivered a speech that caught the attention of the Fight for $15 movement and AFL-CIO—the nation's largest federation of unions—as well as the advocacy group Patriotic Millionaires.

Highlighting the dramatic gap between worker pay and chief executive compensation in the United States, Ryan made a case for the PRO Act and called out the GOP for not working with Democrats on the bill.

"Heaven forbid we pass something that's gonna help the damn workers in the United States of America," he shouted on the floor. "Heaven forbid we tilt the balance that has been going in the wrong direction for 50 years."

"We talk about pensions, you complain," Ryan said of Republicans in Congress. "We talk about the minimum wage increase, you complain. We talk about giving them the right to organize, you complain. But if we were passing a tax cut here, you'd be all getting in line to vote 'yes' for it."

"Now stop talking about Dr. Seuss, and start working with us on behalf of the American workers," he added, referencing attempts by some prominent Republicans to politicize a recent decision by the company that manages the late author's estate to stop publishing six books containing "hurtful and wrong" imagery.

In an apparent response to the congressman's impassioned speech, Daily Beast columnist Wajahat Ali suggested that "more Democrats need to channel Tim Ryan's righteous rage. It's about time and the people demand it. Use it as fuel to get stuff done against an obstructionist GOP."

The PRO Act passed the Democrat-controlled House in February 2020 but went nowhere with the GOP-majority Senate and a White House held by then-President Donald Trump. House Committee on Education and Labor Chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and other Democratic leaders reintroduced the landmark legislation last month.

"The decades-long assault on workers' rights—led by special interests in state legislatures, courts, and employers across the country—has suppressed union membership and eroded America's middle class," Scott said at the time. "The Protecting the Right to Organize Act is a major step toward ensuring that workers can exercise their basic right to form a union and collectively bargain for higher pay, safer working conditions, and decent benefits—including paid leave, quality healthcare, and a secure retirement."

"The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need for Congress to protect and strengthen workers' rights," he added. "Over the past year, workers across the country have been forced to work in unsafe conditions for insufficient pay, because they lacked the ability to stand together and negotiate with their employer. The PRO Act is an opportunity to honor the contributions of the many frontline workers during the pandemic and American workers nationwide who continue to uphold our economy."

Backed by unions, labor rights advocates, and environmental groups, the bill is—in the words of Scott—widely considered "the most significant upgrade to U.S. labor rights in more than eight decades."

While President Joe Biden campaigned on the promise that he would be "the most pro-union president you've ever seen," the bill will still need to pass a Senate now narrowly controlled by Democrats.

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