Senate Labor panel passes PRO Act on party-line vote
The Senate committee run by Bernie Sanders has approved the strongest reform ever to U.S. labor law. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP

WASHINGTON—By an 11-10 party-line vote—Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders for, all Republicans against—the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the Protect the Right To Organize (PRO) Act.

The measure has long been organized labor’s #1 priority and would help level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing and workers’ rights while imposing higher fines on corporate labor law-breakers.

But it also faces a rocky road ahead, with the committee’s Republicans confidently predicting it would fall victim to a Senate filibuster. Even the two Republicans considered the most likely to vote for the PRO Act, Alaskan Lisa Murkowski—whose state is heavily unionized—and Maine’s Susan Collins voted “no.”

Sanders, the committee chair and the PRO Act’s sponsor, shepherded the bill through, along with legislation to enact seven days of paid family or medical leave nationwide and to put teeth in the 1962 Equal Pay Act via the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Paycheck Fairness would increase penalties for pay discrimination by gender and force bosses to prove they gave higher pay to men than to equally qualified women for legitimate reasons, not just on the basis of sex or past salary history.

In a congratulatory tweet, the AFL-CIO declared: “Today, three crucial pro-worker bills passed the Senate HELP Committee! The PRO Act, Healthy Families Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act will establish a long-overdue standard of fairness in every workplace and deliver the dignity and respect that all workers deserve.”

Paycheck Fairness and paid family and medical leave also passed on party-line votes, with Vermont’s Sanders and the Democrats all in favor and all the Republicans opposed.

“Workers in America have a constitutional right to assemble and form a union,” declared Sanders, the Senate’s strongest and longest pro-worker advocate, as well as the committee chair and the PRO Act’s sponsor.

“But the truth is that for decades corporate interests have done everything they can to make it impossible for workers to exercise that right. We will be dealing with that issue” by passing the bill,

“All of these issues come within the context of a nation in which the gap between the people on top and everybody else is growing wider. We have more income and wealth inequality than we have ever had and more concentration of corporate ownership than we have ever had.”

Meanwhile, Sanders said, “60 million of our people are struggling from paycheck to paycheck.”

And in his own tweet, Sanders congratulated all the panel Democrats “for standing together and passing three major pieces of pro-worker legislation. It is a major accomplishment on behalf of the working class of this country.”

Besides the AFL-CIO and its member unions, almost 150 other organizations supported the PRO Act, Sanders said. They included at least two major civil rights groups: The NAACP and the National Urban League. Cassidy countered with 58 corporate lobbies and their ideological allies against the PRO Act.

One of them, the venal and vicious so-called National Right To Work Committee, pushed its long-favored alternative, a national RTW law, which Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., offered as one of the GOP’s 40 “poison pill” amendments to the PRO Act, replacing it entirely. Paul lost 12-9.

Another would explicitly legalize bosses’ use of merit pay, a divide-and-conquer tactic bosses often use to pit workers against one another. Its sponsor claimed union contracts ban merit pay. It lost, too.

The RTW crowd, heavily corporate-funded, also owed retribution at the polls next year against Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who represent “purple” states with RTW laws on their books. Republican-gerrymandered legislatures imposed those laws. Baldwin and Kaine supported the PRO Act and opposed Paul’s RTW replacement, a favorite corporate class goal.

“These bills offered today have no chance of becoming law,” the panel’s top Republican, Louisianan Bill Cassidy, stated. The PRO Act, he complained, “is not pro-worker, it’s pro-Big Union,” employing another common Republican anti-union anti-worker insult.

And Cassidy said all three measures need 60 Senate votes to overcome a talkathon—and all three wouldn’t get them. Left unsaid: Prospects in the narrowly Republican House are even dimmer. No hearings are scheduled on the PRO Act, Paycheck Fairness, or paid family leave.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


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.