PRO Act drive revs up as faith groups back legislation
Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democratic Senator. The AFL-CIO is pressuring him to change his position to one in favor of the Pro Act. | AP

WASHINGTON—Organized labor’s intensive drive to lobby senators, from supportive Democrats to resistant Republicans, to pass the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, revved up the week of July 17-24. It featured rallies, phone banks, and sometimes virtual events in cities ranging from Orlando, Fla., to Fairbanks, Alaska.

And the workers picked up notable backing from groups of faith leaders from Judaism, the Catholic Church, Islam, and mainline Protestantism. One non-signer: The right-wing Southern Baptist Convention. The 21 supportive groups cast worker rights as a moral issue, too. And the eight Catholic groups’ stand agrees with the strong, frequent pro-worker pro-union statements of Pope Francis I.

“Our belief in the intrinsic worth of both work and workers leads us to strongly support the PRO Act, which will strengthen and expand the right of workers to bargain collectively, form unions, and engage in collective action without fear of retaliation from their employers. Such assurances are also better for employers as they contribute to better productivity, mutual collaboration, and sustainability,” they said.

The theme of the pro-PRO Act drive is “Workers’ rights are civil rights.” Details about the legislation, rallies and events are on a new website: www.proact.aflcio.org.

Whether all the pressure will convince enough GOPers to defect from the party’s anti-worker, anti-union line is uncertain. And there are still two reluctant Democrats to persuade: Arizonan Kyrsten Sinema and Virginia’s Mark Warner. The Northern Virginia AFL-CIO holds “weekly Wednesday” demonstrations near Warner’s home in the D.C. suburbs.

Without those two, plus 10 of the evenly split Senate’s 50 Republicans, a GOP filibuster threat by worker-hater GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would halt the legislation, the most wide-ranging pro-worker labor law reform since the original 1935 National Labor Relations Act, in its tracks.

“This PRO Act Week of Action is another full-court press. America’s labor movement is showing up in every corner of our country to demand a fix to our outdated labor laws that are nearly 100 years old,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Our members and all working people are committed to making the PRO Act the law of the land this year.”

That week of action led to rallies and events both thanking supporters—such as a planned July 23 rally at the two Illinois Democrats’ offices in Chicago—and lobbying the others.

Those included a press conference in front of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s Orlando office, and rallies on June 20 in Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, Alaska, especially targeting Republican Lisa Murkowski. Federal figures put Alaska fourth in the U.S. in union density, behind Hawaii, New York, and Rhode Island. Those three states each have two Democratic senators, who already support the PRO Act.

The religious groups’ letter cast the PRO Act in economic as well as moral terms, pointing out how its passage would help workers of color in particular, by invalidating “the harmful legacy of” state Jim Crow-era so-called “right to work” laws.

Bosses use those laws to weaken unions financially and to divide and conquer workers by playing off race against race.

“Our current labor laws are no longer effective in protecting the lives and dignity of workers and fall woefully short of allowing workers to productively advocate for their needs from a position of mutuality with employers,” the groups wrote senators. “As union membership has fallen due to counter-productive laws and amendments, inequality has skyrocketed leaving the working class with little constructive power over their own economic security; and thus, also harming sustainable business models.

Pope Francis, an outspoken proponent of labor organizing rights. | Andrew Medichini/AP

“The PRO Act addresses these current inadequacies by empowering workers to effectively exercise their freedom to organize and bargain. Critically, it also ends employers’ practice of punishing striking workers, strengthens the National Labor Relations Board and allows it to hold corporations accountable for retaliating against workers, and would help us collectively do better for all our needs by repealing” the federal law—which congressional Republicans enacted in 1947—legalizing states’ RTW statutes.

Those state laws “reinforce Jim Crow by maintaining labor segregation and further exploiting workers of color,” since eight of the ten states with the highest percentage of Black residents—and workers—are RTW states, they note.

“These restrictions strip funding and bargaining power from unions, which have a devastating effect on the economic stability of people of color,” the faith leaders declare.

Eight Catholic groups signed the letter: The Catholic Labor Network, the U.S. provinces of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker of D.C., the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Pax Christi USA, the Franciscan Action Network, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

Other faith groups signing the letter were: the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and the National Council of Jewish Women (all Jewish), the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers), the Islamic Council of North America’s social justice commission, the National Council of Churches of Christ, the Presbyterian Church’s Office of Public Witness, the Progressive National Baptist Convention (Black Baptists), the Episcopalian, United Methodist, Unitarian churches, and the United Church of Christ.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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