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Unions and Pro-Worker Groups Pressure Manchin to Back Infrastructure Bill

Pro-worker organizations are engaged in a public pressure campaign to get Sen. Joe Manchin on board with the bill.

Sen. Joe Manchin questions members of the Biden administration during a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on April 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Unions and other pro-worker organizations are engaging in a public pressure campaign on Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, in order to secure his support for a large infrastructure bill being promoted by the Biden White House.

Manchin, a centrist lawmaker, plays a pivotal role in the evenly divided Senate. Without his support, the infrastructure bill would likely fail in that legislative body, even with the use of reconciliation rules that would allow Democrats to bypass the filibuster.

Manchin’s recent comments on the $2 trillion infrastructure bill indicate his support for the bill is tepid. In particular, he has expressed qualms over raising the corporate tax rate to fund the legislation. The bill would raise the tax on businesses from 21 percent to 28 percent, a rate that’s still far below where it stood just a few years ago (at 35 percent).

It’s possible that Manchin’s reticence may be based on corporate donations to his political campaign over the years. Additionally, the senator represents a deeply red state that he barely won in 2018, and he may feel like supporting the Biden infrastructure bill could hurt him at the polls.

Unions and other organizations, however, are trying to pressure Manchin to back the bill, noting that they were instrumental in helping him stave off a Republican challenger in his last election. Indeed, Manchin had the support of teachers unions, an all-important coal miners union in the state, the West Virginia AFL-CIO and several other unions.

Manchin has demonstrated that he knows how important those unions’ support is for him. Earlier this week, he announced he was signing on as co-sponsor of the PRO Act, legislation that would strengthen workers’ rights across the U.S. and make it less difficult for employees to form unions in their workplaces.

“This legislation will level the playing field” for workers, Manchin said about his support for the bill.

Unions in West Virginia are hopeful that they can similarly influence Manchin to back the infrastructure bill. Several organizations are conducting public information campaigns in order to get more support for the legislation — and to convince Manchin of how it would benefit his home state and the workers who supported him in the last election.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents thousands of workers in the state, is among the many workers’ groups pushing the bill, emphasizing the bill’s inclusion of $400 billion for the home care industry. SEIU predicts that the bill, if passed, could mean improved benefits and wages for its workers, as well as 6,000 additional jobs in that sector.

The Working Families Party (WFP) is also instrumental in the pressure campaign on Manchin. The organization is running print and television campaign advertisements, educating residents of the state about the bill and encouraging Manchin to vote for its passage.

WFP is also organizing “Jammin’ for Jobs” — outdoor, socially distanced live music streaming events in several West Virginia communities to promote pro-worker legislation.

WFP organizer Ryan Frankenberry explained to NPR that the group is putting pressure on Manchin “by creating awareness, by making it harder for him to say no.”

Other unions are speaking directly with Manchin to urge him to back the legislation. Joshua Sword, head of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said the organization is talking with Manchin about support for the bill. The group, however, is not ruling out the possibility of a pressure campaign of its own.

Sword thinks his organization’s efforts will ultimately prevail, and that Manchin should be seen as a “yes” vote on the final infrastructure bill. “I don’t think you have to push Sen. Joe Manchin on infrastructure,” he said.

But Manchin is also hesitant to back a bill that includes funding for projects that aren’t considered “traditional” infrastructure. He’s skeptical of some programs that would greatly benefit workers — such as funding to caretakers and investments in other job sectors — because they don’t fund things like roads, bridges and other physical projects, he implied in a conference call with reporters earlier this week.

“I would hope to see Democrats and Republicans agreeing on infrastructure — infrastructure by itself,” Manchin said.

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