Jul 22, 2021
As U.S. senators held a hearing Thursday on American workers' organizing rights, dozens of progressive organizations announced a new coalition to demand that lawmakers pass the PRO Act.
Motherboardreports that "the grassroots group, the Worker Power Coalition, is made up of 40 of the most powerful progressive organizations in the United States, across a broad spectrum of issues, including racial justice, electoral politics, [and] environmental activism."
The coalition--which includes Communications Workers of America, Democratic Socialists of America, Indivisible, MoveOn, Our Revolution, Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, and the Working Families Party--"has committed to lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., actions throughout the summer, and a six-figure digital ad buy," according to the outlet.
\u201cThe Worker Power Coalition is a historic alliance between workers across all sectors, grassroots organizations and labor unions fighting to rebuild protection and dignity at work. Meet a few of our coalition standouts below \ud83d\udc47\u201d— PassthePROAct (@PassthePROAct) 1626968430
The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act was reintroduced in February by Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) along with House Committee on Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
The PRO Act was a key focus of the hearing that Murray's committee held Thursday, entitled, "The Right to Organize: Empowering American Workers in a 21st Century Economy."
\u201cAfter Gracie Heldman from Ohio shared her story about being denied the right to join together with other workers in her workplace to advocate for improved wages and working conditions, Chair @PattyMurray asked her what it would mean to have a greater say in her workplace.\u201d— HELP Committee Dems (@HELP Committee Dems) 1626967519
As Murray's office outlined earlier this year, the PRO Act aims to empower workers by:
- Bolstering remedies and punishing violations of workers' rights through authorizing meaningful penalties for employers that violate workers' rights, strengthening support for workers who suffer retaliation for exercising their rights, and authorizing a private right of action for violation of workers' rights;
- Strengthening workers' right to join together and negotiate for better working conditions by enhancing workers' right to support secondary boycotts, ensuring workers can collect "fair share" fees, modernizing the union election process, and facilitating initial collective bargaining agreements; and
- Restoring fairness to an economy rigged against workers by closing loopholes that allow employers to misclassify their employees as supervisors and independent contractors and increasing transparency in labor-management relations.
During Thursday's hearing, Murray highlighted how unions improve the lives of workers--from wages, time off policies, and benefits to health and safety standards and "knowing you have other workers in your corner to help make sure you are treated with respect and dignity in the workplace."
\u201cUnions mean workers\u2014who are the ones truly making our economy run\u2014have better wages and benefits that help them support their families and live their lives.\n\nFor workers to succeed, unions need to succeed. That\u2019s why we need to pass the #PROAct.\u201d— Senator Patty Murray (@Senator Patty Murray) 1626968160
Among those who testified (pdf) was Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute. The think tank's senior economist and director of policy discussed both "the importance of unions to working people, to racial equity, and to reducing economic inequality" as well as "how the decline in unionization in recent decades is the direct result of relentless attacks on unions."
Shierholz concluded with a call for the Senate to pass the PRO Act, which "addresses many of the major shortcomings with our current law." Doing so, she said, "would help restore workers' ability to organize with their co-workers and negotiate for better pay, benefits, and fairness on the job, and it would reduce racial disparities and help halt and reverse skyrocketing inequality."
\u201c"Legislation like the #PROAct would seek to better balance the scales of power for workers who want to join together in a union." - @hshierholz during the @HELPCmteDems hearing on The Right to Organize: Empowering American Workers in a 21st Century Economy.\u201d— AFL-CIO \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8 | #AFLCIOVotes (@AFL-CIO \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8 | #AFLCIOVotes) 1626968244
"The large gap between the share of workers who want a union and the share of workers who are in a union underscores that our system of labor laws is not working," she emphasized. "Fundamental reform is required to rebuild an economy that guarantees all workers the right to come together and have a voice in their workplace and no longer leaves most workers behind."
"Meaningful policy changes like the PRO Act," Shierholz said, "are crucial for restoring a fair balance of power between workers and employers."
Members of the new coalition shared similar messages on Thursday.
\u201cUnions built America\u2019s middle class, and unions will rebuild America\u2019s middle class. But first, we've got to make sure they have a fighting chance against corporate union-busting\u2014which means we must #PassThePROAct. https://t.co/cBGjTKLNhT\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1626976542
"We need unions because they spark an understanding within the larger zeitgeist of America that when we come together, we are powerful and can pool influence to decide who gets elected and influence their decisions," MoveOn executive director Rahna Epting told Motherboard.
Nelini Stamp, director of strategy and partnerships for the Working Families Party, said that "we want to build a multi-racial working class democracy but that's really, really hard."
"We can't reach it without people who have rights in their workplace," Stamp said.
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