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PRO Act

Rideshare driver and organizers approach a pickup location at LAX and call on Congress to pass the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in Los Angeles on July 21, 2021. (Photo: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

New Progressive Coalition Pressures Senate to Pass the PRO Act

The new group came as one expert told senators that "meaningful policy changes like the PRO Act are crucial for restoring a fair balance of power between workers and employers."

Jessica Corbett

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.

Motherboard reports 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.

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-labor bill (H.R. 842/S. 420) passed the Democrat-led House in March but has yet to advance in the evenly divided Senate—bolstering calls for Democrats to kill the filibuster.

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."

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."

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."

"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.

"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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