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Labor Activists: Senate Candidates Should Support PRO Act or Get Out of Congress

Midterm voters should see “who the real pro-worker members of the U.S. Senate are,” one union president said.

Activists with One Fair Wage participate in a “Wage Strike" demonstration outside of the Old Ebbitt Grill restaurant on May 26th, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

A coalition of labor groups is launching an effort to pressure U.S. Senate candidates in battleground states to support the pro-union Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

This week, the Worker Power Coalition will begin calling, protesting and visiting the offices of senators up for reelection this fall, pressuring them into supporting the PRO Act or publicly shaming them if they don’t, according to Politico. Organizers will target lawmakers in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.

The coalition, made up of over 40 labor, progressive and climate groups and led by several major labor unions, including Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and United Auto Workers (UAW), says it aims to make it clear to voters whether or not candidates are pro-worker.

One way to do this, they say, is to force the PRO Act to come to a vote so that every senator’s vote is on the record, which International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) President Jimmy Williams Jr. told Politico would show voters “who the real pro-worker members of the U.S. Senate are.”

The PRO Act is a sweeping labor bill that would massively expand workers’ rights to collectively bargain and form unions, setting much harsher legal penalties on employers for violating labor laws, outlawing common union-busting tactics and ending “right-to-work” laws, among many other provisions. Labor advocates say that, if the bill passes Congress, it will be the most consequential and vital labor legislation of this generation.

The Worker Power Coalition has been working for over a year to bring attention to the PRO Act in Congress. In March, the bill passed the House with only one Democratic dissenter, Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), but it has yet to come to a vote in the Senate. It’s unclear how much support it currently has in that chamber, though reporting from last year suggests that all Republicans are against the bill, as well as three Democrats — Senators Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), Mark Kelly (Arizona) and Mark Warner (Virginia).

“We have an opportunity in November to elect somebody different who we know supports the PRO Act,” Florida coalition campaign leader Curtis Hierro told Politico. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, for instance, could be unseated by Democratic challenger Rep. Val Demings, who voted for the PRO Act in the House last year. Rubio, on the other hand, introduced a bill earlier this year that would provide an “alternative to unions,” per Politico.

“We’re going to make sure that every single voter in Florida understands clearly where Marco Rubio stands on that issue when they go to cast their vote this November,” Hierro said. “One of the great labor songs that still has relevancy is, ‘What side are you on?’ And we definitely want to make it plain for the working people of Florida — who is a great majority — what side Marco Rubio is on.”

The coalition’s push comes amid surging union popularity and activity in the U.S. Over just the past year, labor organizers have launched and won a number of major campaigns at corporations like Starbucks and Amazon, as well as at lesser known organizations.

It’s likely that these victories are also fueling an uptick in the public’s opinion of unions; according to a Gallup poll released late last month, union approval is at 71 percent, its highest point since 1965. This represents a 23 percent increase since 2009. The same poll also found that 42 percent of working respondents are interested in joining a union, with 11 percent saying that they’re “extremely interested” in union membership.

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