Labor fights to pass federal PRO Act

By Sheri Williams

Union members and allies turned out in Sacramento to fight for support of the PRO Act, a major piece of legislation that would help level the playing field for American workers.

“It is essential that we pass this legislation to protect working families and restore the American dream for all workers,” said Sacramento Central Labor Council executive director Fabrizio Sasso. “The balance of power has shifted too far in the favor of greedy corporations, and this legislation will help bring power back to where it belongs—with the people.”

The Sacramento action, which included the office of Senator Alex Padilla and SEIU 2015, was part of a nationwide push to highlight the importance of the legislation, which is a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s pro-worker platform.

The Pro Act is currently in a tough fight in Congress, where support is largely divided along party lines. Democrats are attempting to put some of the key provisions of the legislation into other packages to help it pass.

The Protect the Right to Organize Act, as it is officially known, includes hefty fines for corporations that break labor laws. Some of those measures have been inserted in the Senate Democrats’ key money bill, a budget “reconciliation” measure right-wing Senate Republicans can’t filibuster.

“Parts of the PRO Act are part of reconciliation,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told Press Associates Union News Service at an outdoor July 15 press conference in Texas.

“Some of it can’t get in,” due to the rules that restrict reconciliation bills to taxing and spending only, Trumka said. “But the (PRO Act) fines and things having to do with monetary policy are in.”

Those fines are meant as a deterrent, unlike penalties now imposed on lawbreaking employers under the National Labor Relations Act. But since they raise money, they meet reconciliation bill rules, limiting the measure to raising and spending money. Reconciliation would also repeal much of the Trump-GOP 2017 tax cut for corporations and the rich.

The PRO Act would fine labor law violators $50,000 per offense, and each offense would be a separate count, rather than having law-breaking against multiple workers rolled into one charge. Chronic lawbreakers would face $100,000 fines per offense.

By contrast, the NLRA imposes fines equal to net back pay for each worker harmed, minus that workers’ earnings while they are seeking justice. And the bosses must post “we won’t do it again” notices in the workplace.

Those small penalties and bulletin board notices mean bosses can treat illegal firing of workers who advocate unionizing as a small cost of doing business. They profit because the firings have a chilling effect on other workers and on union organizing.

AFL-CIO members fanned out the week of July 17 in a massive door-to-door on-the-ground campaign to lock in three wavering Democratic senators on the PRO Act and to also push resistant Republicans to agree to it.