Organized Labor Puts Heat On Democratic Holdouts To Support PRO Act

The AFL-CIO is spending more than 1 million dollars on TV and radio ads aimed at moderate Democrats who haven't signed on to the labor reform proposal.

Senators who haven’t yet voiced support for the Protecting the Right to Organize Act might soon hear from more constituents on the matter.

The AFL-CIO labor federation says it’s spending seven figures on television and radio ads aimed at bolstering Senate support for the PRO Act, which would make it easier for workers to join unions. The ads will run in Arizona, Virginia and West Virginia ― states with moderate Democratic senators whose support, or lack of it, could determine the bill’s fate.

All members of the Senate’s Democratic caucus have co-sponsored the bill except for Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Mark Warner of Virginia. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said last week that he will support the bill.

The AFL-CIO is also targeting Alaska with the advertising. Alaska has high union membership relative to other states, and the federation may see a possible co-sponsor in moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Here’s the ad that’s running in Arizona:

The theme of the ad campaign is “getting a return on your hard work shouldn’t be this hard.” John Weber, an AFL-CIO spokesperson, said that in addition to local TV advertising, the federation will be running digital ads across the country urging people to call their senators.

“We’re taking nothing for granted,” Weber said in an email. “The PRO Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to give working people a stronger voice on the job.”

The PRO Act would make for the most dramatic overhaul of U.S. labor law in more than 70 years. The bill would ramp up penalties against employers that illegally break unions; make it harder for employers to bog down organizing campaigns through litigation; overturn “right-to-work” laws that weaken unions; and make it easier for workers to secure their first union contracts, among other significant changes.

The snowballing support behind the PRO Act has created a lot of excitement in labor circles, although the path for passage remains extremely narrow. The bill has already passed the House this year, but Democrats hold a bare 50-50 majority in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

To pass their version, Senate Democrats would need to get every member of the caucus on board, then either dispense with the legislative filibuster or find a way to make the proposal work under reconciliation rules.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) is one of three Democratic senators not to signal support for the PRO Act.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) is one of three Democratic senators not to signal support for the PRO Act.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

For now, the priority for unions is getting the last Democratic holdouts to sign on to the legislation. They recently gained the support of Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, after pressure from a coalition of labor groups and phone calls from members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Much of the advocacy behind the PRO Act has been driven by the AFL-CIO and one of its member unions, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. IUPAT and other backers of the law have called for Democrats to end the filibuster to make its passage more possible.

Union density in the U.S. has fallen dramatically in recent decades, with only around 1 in 10 workers now belonging to a union. That’s about half of what the rate was in 1983 when the federal government first started tracking.

Labor groups and academics have complained for years that the playing field is tilted to the advantage of employers, who now aggressively beat back organizing drives with anti-union campaigns. PRO Act backers are citing the recent failed unionization effort at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, where the retail giant hired “union avoidance” consultants, as a prime example of why labor laws should be reformed.

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