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Over 40 Progressive Orgs Unite to Pressure Congress to Pass Pro-Union PRO Act

The pro-union bill could help reverse declining union membership in the country.

Richard Trumka, President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, speaks during a press conference advocating for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill on February 5, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Union membership has been declining for nearly six decades as conservatives and corporate bosses have chipped away at workers’ rights to collectively bargain. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, aims to fix that — but it’s lying stagnant in Washington, leaving workers in the lurch.

A new coalition of over 40 progressive organizations are aiming to fix that. The group, called the Worker Power Coalition, was launched on Thursday to push Congress to pass the PRO Act. They will focus specifically on pushing Democrats in particular with an ad campaign in states that they say are key to securing a majority on the proposal.

The coalition is made up of influential organizations representing a range of interests. Members of the Worker Power Coalition include political organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America, MoveOn and the Working Families Party; climate groups like the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club; and other organizations like Economic Policy Institute. It also has the backing of several major unions like Communications Workers of America and International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT).

The proposal has been championed by labor and climate organizers, as well as progressive and Democratic lawmakers, as the most consequential pro-labor legislation of this generation, or perhaps ever in the U.S. The PRO Act would roll back so-called right-to-work laws that hogtie labor unions, create harsher penalties for illegal union-busting efforts and protect contracted workers by allowing them to unionize alongside employees.

However, the bill is currently lying stagnant after having passed the House in March. The Senate filibuster, and a couple of Democratic senators, stand in its way.

Advocates have been able to flip key centrists like Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and, more recently, Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) into supporting the PRO Act. But Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia) are still holding out.

The Worker Power Coalition is looking to convince holdouts by running ads in Virginia and Arizona. They’re more generally looking to establish the PRO Act as a major progressive issue and elevate it as a matter of immediate importance.

“The fight to pass the PRO Act isn’t a political issue, it’s an issue of dignity and fairness for the people who spent the last year risking their lives to keep the rest of us safe,” Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, said in a statement. Workers like those at Amazon warehouses, for instance, have faced dangerous, terrible working conditions to process packages during the pandemic while also facing fierce union-busting efforts from the corporation.

“The PRO Act sets a new standard of dignity and fairness in the workplace, and helps essential workers meet their basic needs on and off the job — from improving benefits, to protecting women and undocumented workers from abuse at work, to making sure workers can use the bathroom when they need to,” Mitchell continued. “Workers are caring for us like never before, and it’s time Congress started caring for them.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) announced last week that parts of the PRO Act are included in the Democrats’ reconciliation bill. Though advocates cheered its inclusion, it is as yet unclear which parts of the bill are included, whereas the wide breadth of the PRO Act is part of its appeal for labor advocates.

“We applaud Democrats like Senator Sanders, who are fighting to get as much of the PRO Act as possible included in reconciliation,” said Ryan Kekeris, communications director for IUPAT, adding that IUPAT supports passing the entirety of the PRO Act through any means necessary, including abolishing the filibuster.

Polling shows broad support for passing the entirety of the pro-union proposal. A recent poll by Hart Research Associates showed that, in nine key battleground states like Virginia, Arizona and West Virginia, 63 percent of likely voters supported the PRO Act, with 87 percent of Democrats in favor. Even among Republicans, 45 percent are in favor of the legislation with only 40 percent opposed.

“[O]ur allies in the Senate should feel emboldened by polling that shows voters overwhelmingly support penalizing companies when they violate workers rights, whether that’s firing workers who spoke up for safer working conditions during the pandemic, forcing workers to attend captive audience meetings, or misclassifying workers as independent contractors to deny them their rights as employees,” Kekeris said. “These abuses must stop.”

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