Democrats will bring sweeping labor reform for a floor vote in the Senate if its backers can round up at least 50 co-sponsors, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., recently told AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation.
The bill, which recently passed the House of Representatives, would represent the most serious reform of workplace and organizing rules in several generations. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, known as the PRO Act, was introduced last month by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. A Schumer spokesperson declined to comment.
President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress have praised the measure and called for its swift passage. The bill currently has 45 backers, leaving it five short of the target of 50.
The bill would strengthen collective bargaining rights, override so-called right-to-work laws, establish new penalties for corporations that violate workers’ rights, and prohibit employers from taking action against unions striking in solidarity with workers at other companies.
The package is the top priority of the AFL-CIO this year, but Trumka warned union members in January that the bill would not pass “without a fight.” Labor leaders would face opposition from corporate America and most Republicans, he said, cautioning that even “some Democrats will be looking for a way out.”
With Democrats holding a slim majority in the Senate, passing the PRO Act would require reforming the filibuster, as the prospect of 10 Republican votes for labor reform is beyond a fantasy. The number of high-profile Democrats joining the push to reform the filibuster has steadily grown, with Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., endorsing unspecified changes to filibuster rules earlier this month.
Peeling off Republican votes in support of the PRO Act is improbable even as some in the GOP have positioned themselves as advocates for the working class amid a nationwide push to unionize workers at Amazon. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., penned an op-ed in USA Today earlier this month endorsing the union push at Amazon but still does not support the PRO Act. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has called for a criminal antitrust investigation into Amazon’s data usage practices and introduced a bill last summer to eradicate “slave labor” from the supply chains of large corporations. Last month, Hawley introduced an amendment to a budget resolution that would ban mergers and acquisitions by big tech companies. The senator has not signed onto the PRO Act.
The bill’s 45 Senate co-sponsors include 44 Democrats and one independent. Only four Democrats in the caucus, and one independent senator who caucuses with Democrats — Maine’s Angus King — have not signed onto the bill. The other holdouts are Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Manchin, and Mark Warner of Virginia.
A spokesperson for King said the senator was still deciding whether to sign on to the bill. “He’s interested in it and having conversations with Maine stakeholders and experts before making a final decision,” spokesperson Matthew Felling told The Intercept in an email. Spokespeople for the other four senators did not respond to requests for comment.
Some labor leaders have dismissed concerns that the bill won’t be able to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. “I say, first of all, let them filibuster, to show the public where they’re at,” Jim Williams, general vice president and director of organizing for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, told Jacobin magazine in January.
IUPAT, an AFL-CIO affiliate, is leading the campaign to get the bill to 50 votes and wasn’t surprised by Schumer’s message to Trumka, which the union said is consistent with its strategy to eventually get the bill passed.
“We support abolishing the filibuster, and we intend to campaign to make sure it gets abolished. But I think the first step in doing that is to get everyone in the Democratic caucus in the Senate on board with passing it first,” said Ryan Kekeris, communications director at IUPAT, lead organizer on their campaign to pass the PRO Act, and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
DSA is part of a IUPAT-led coalition that also includes the Communication Workers of America, the Sunrise Movement, and the Working Families Party and is conducting direct outreach to senators on the package, as well as mobilizing their constituents. The coalition’s targets include Kelly, Synema, Warner, Manchin, and King. “We’ve made it clear, for every senator, that just saying you support the bill is not enough. You have to also support a meaningful path to it becoming law. So that includes getting over the hump of the filibuster,” Kekeris said.
On Sunday night, DSA made more than 100,000 phone calls to voters in West Virginia, Arizona, Maine, and Virginia, Kekeris told The Intercept.
“I know they filled up Kyrsten Sinema’s voicemail with people in support of the PRO Act,” he said. They did the same to Kelly’s voicemail on Tuesday. “We plan on doing that really to every senator, but primarily to those who are not on the record yet with supporting the bill.”