May Day preview: PRO Act to take center stage
Aaron Favila / AP

WASHINGTON (PAI)—From coast to coast, demands for passage of the PRO Act, the most pro-worker labor law overhaul in 86 years, will take center stage at May Day marches, teach-ins, and events, preceded by other pro-PRO Act actions that began on April 26.

The AFL-CIO reports more than 700 events are planned, and that count may be low, as individual unions check in with their own marches and meetings. And five big Bay Area labor councils joined together for a May Day march in San Francisco.

Add to those events and marches one big town hall, on May 2, Confronting The Covid Economy: Women Fight Back, sponsored by People’s World and the International Labor Communications Association.

Jobs With Justice Executive Director Erica Smiley, retired Coalition of Labor Union Women Executive Director Carol Rosenblatt, and Unite Here Local 1 shop steward Camilla Carrothers, and Phoenix, Ariz., organizer Haley Carrera will speak at the town hall. Arizona is vital for passing the PRO Act since its Democratic senators have yet to co-sponsor it.

The forum will discuss “demands that can be made of lawmakers and others that will make the most difference in women’s real lives” and effective organization “to demand justice, equality, and an end to the exploitation and special oppression that particularly women of color face in the capitalist economy-in-crisis.”

Check out the AFL-CIO’s PRO Act toolkit.

In the four days before that forum, April 28-May 1, Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and the Labor Network for Sustainability will hold a virtual forum on issues intertwining worker rights and the green economy worldwide. Smiley and Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, and International Trades Union Congress General Secretary Sharan Burrows are among the speakers. Details are on the Kalmanovitz website.

And the night of May Day, the DC Labor Film Fest will kick off with a discussion of a film, posted starting April 28, on Haymarket, The Bomb, The Anarchists, And Labor Struggle. Details are on the Metro D.C. Central Labor Council’s website.

All of this ties into the struggle for workers’ rights—and passing the PRO Act is key.

“Millions of Americans would join a union right now if they had the chance, but our outdated labor laws are preventing that from happening. The PRO Act is how we change that. It’s the next frontier for our workers,” David Driscoll-Knight, the AFL-CIO’s eastern regional director, said in a statement.

The key point: To convince the balky U.S. Senate, tied 50-50 and under Democratic control only because of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, to both bring the legislation to the floor and to pass it.

But it has to get there first, and there are still three Democratic holdouts: Both Arizona senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, plus Virginian Mark Warner. That led to daily demonstrations, even before May Day, with several dozen unionists at each, at the Tucson and Phoenix offices of Sinema and Kelly, along with a phone-a-thon to their offices from southern California colleagues.

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It also led to unionists parading to Warner’s offices in Tidewater, Va., through the week, something they plan to do on May Day as well in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria. Meanwhile, the Communications Workers hosted a three-day phone-a-thon for the PRO Act on April 26-28, with the Democratic Socialists joining them. The Sunrise Movement and other allies provided sample letters to e-mail senators.

“The PRO Act is historic legislation that will put power in the hands of workers and reverse decades of legislation meant to crush unions. The bill will completely change labor law as we know it and shift power away from CEOs to workers,” says Our Revolution, organizers of the Alexandria event, in Windmill Hill Park.

The PRO Act, organized labor’s top legislative cause, also has Democratic President Joe Biden’s vocal and strong support. It would make a variety of changes in U.S. labor law. Some are: Outlawing “right to work” laws, making union representation elections easier to hold, banning “captive audience” meetings, and legalizing card-check recognition if unions present election authorization cards from a workplace’s majority.

The law would also fine labor law-breakers $50,000 per violation—or $100,000 for repeat offenders—rather than just net back pay for workers restored to jobs. There would be full disclosure of union-busters’ clients and spending and mandatory first-contract arbitration if the two sides can’t agree.

And the National Labor Relations Board could more easily go to court for anti-union-busting orders. If it refused, workers and unions could sue on their own.

The marchers won’t go into all these details. Instead, they’ll emphasize how the PRO Act will help workers economically and level the playing field against corporate greed, intimidation, and exploitation, especially of workers of color. That will be a top topic of an April 29 virtual forum hosted by the New York State AFL-CIO. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who backs the PRO Act, will speak.

But so will a top organizer from the recent Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union campaign to unionize Amazon’s 5,600-worker warehouse in Bessemer, Ala.—where the workforce is 80%, Black.

The Bessemer worker will detail how Amazon’s illegal intimidation, captive audience meetings, pressure, and even anti-union diatribes in the plant’s bathrooms left RWDSU with the loss—and how the PRO Act would prevent all that. The union has filed a labor law-breaking complaint with the NLRB, which is investigating. It wants a rerun, minus company intimidation, but that ruling could take years.

In some cases, the PRO Act isn’t the only cause of the May Day marchers. In many cities, including San Francisco, it’s intertwined with Workers Memorial Day, April 28—which has turned into Workers Memorial Week.

In lower Manhattan, workers will take to the streets the morning of May Day around the headquarters of Conde Nast Publications, where company intransigence over even bargaining to a first contract has forced workers to consider a potential strike.

Condé Nast workers need our help!” their rally announcement says. “Members at The New Yorker, Pitchfork, and Ars Technica Unions voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, and the clock is ticking! Join us for a rally and picket on May Day to demand that Condé Nast and bosses throughout the media industry negotiate in good faith and treat workers fairly.”

The St. Paul Union Advocate reports the May Day “Minneapolis march is being organized by a coalition of Twin Cities area unions, immigrant rights groups, and social justice organizations.”

“The Facebook page publicizing the event says marchers will be calling for labor rights, justice for essential workers, immigrant rights, immigration reform, a halt to police brutality, and climate justice.”

Union sponsors there include AFSCME Locals 2822, 3800, and 3937, the Augsburg Staff Union, Communications Workers Local 7250, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, SEIU Local 26, and UNITE HERE Local 17.

And in Los Angeles, a massive coalition of labor, community, and immigrant rights groups have joined together to organize a joint march, rally, and car caravan that will work its way through the city Saturday morning.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.