In an unusual show of frustration, 76 Democratic members of the House, led by freshmen serving in swing districts, sent a letter on Thursday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Majority Whip James Clyburn urging them to bring a popular and comprehensive labor reform bill to the floor for a vote. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act — or the PRO Act, as it’s commonly referred to — passed the House labor committee on September 25, but progressives and union leaders were frustrated that it wasn’t brought to the floor for a full vote before the holiday break.
The letter suggests that rank-and-file Democrats were worried that little progress had been made in that direction. In response to a request for comment on the letter, Mariel Saez, a spokesperson for Hoyer, said that the majority leader wold bring the measure to the floor sometime an upcoming February recess. “Mr. Hoyer strongly supports the bill and looks forward to bringing it on the Floor before the President’s Day district work period,” Saez said, in what represents a win for advocates of the bill. Henry Connelly, a Pelosi spokesperson, concurred: “Protecting the right to organize is a cornerstone of securing bigger paychecks and better benefits for America’s workers. We hope to have the PRO Act on the floor before Presidents’ Day.”
The lead signatories on the letter are freshman Democratic Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Max Rose of New York, both of whom flipped their congressional districts from red to blue in 2018. Other signatories include Rep. Cheri Bustos, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, signaling that support for the pro-labor measure spans the ideological spectrum within the party.
The letter praises House Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott, D-Va., for getting the bill through his committee in the fall. “It is unfortunate that since then, no date for floor consideration has been announced,” the letter reads. “We believe the PRO Act should be brought to the House floor swiftly. It has 219 sponsors and cosponsors, including several Republicans, indicating that it would pass the House with bipartisan support. We can and should pass it now.”
The lack of movement on the PRO Act was feeding frustrations among Democrats that even with a robust majority, in a situation where passage is merely symbolic — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would never allow the bill to pass — House leadership had come up short. The caution is reminiscent of the modest approach to drug-pricing legislation that frustrated the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and is visible in the reluctance to vote on Rep. John Larson’s bill to expand Social Security benefits, which has 208 co-sponsors.
The PRO Act would represent the most comprehensive rewrite of U.S. labor law in decades. It would eliminate right-to-work laws, impose new penalties on employers who retaliate against union organizing, crack down on worker misclassification, and establish new rules so that employers cannot delay negotiating collective bargaining contracts.
In December, despite pleas from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and multiple labor unions to bring the PRO Act to a vote, House leadership focused its energies on passing Donald Trump’s new United States–Mexico–Canada trade agreement, passing a bill to lower prescription drug prices, and voting on impeachment. Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, acknowledged then that efforts to hash out labor compromises in the trade agreement meant “there’s probably some limited bandwidth” for the PRO Act. Now that the House passed the USMCA, as the trade agreement is known, in December, Democrats, including vulnerable representatives in red-leaning districts, are evidently facing even more pressure to move the legislation through.
Labor unions praised the letter Thursday afternoon.
“The PRO Act is a critical legislation that will empower America’s working people by allowing us to join a union without fear or intimidation and collectively bargain for a fair return on our work,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. “At a time when working people are on the rise and fighting for justice and equality, it is vital that this bill is brought to the House floor and passed without any further delay.”
Tom Conway, the international president of the United Steelworkers union, said in a statement: “Rep. Golden and other advocates of the bill should be commended for their continuing effort to ensure all workers have a stronger voice in the workplace.”