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Common Dreams

Congress Authorizes First-ever Labor Caucus

Congressman Pocan and Norcross formed caucus to advocate for the PRO Act

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by Guest Post on
Nov 20, 2020

This post was written by Jessica Corbett at Common Dreams.

Amid a flurry of new campaigns and initiatives launched in the wake of President-elect Joe Biden's victory last week, a pair of Democratic congressmen who are both decades-long union members announced on Friday the creation of a Labor Caucus to advance an agenda that centers needs of working families in Congress.

Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Donald Norcross (D-N.J.)—members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), respectively—unveiled the caucus in a statement that acknowledged the former vice president's recent win.

"President-elect Joe Biden's new administration gives the Democratic Party the opportunity to reprioritize working families at the center of our legislative agenda," declared Pocan, before taking aim at the outgoing president, who still refuses to accept the election outcome.

"Under Donald Trump, we've seen the erosion of labor rights, rise in union-busting, and the prioritization of corporate profits over working people's livelihoods and safety," Pocan said. "It's time for working people to have a voice in Congress again."

The Wisconsinite called for the incoming Congress to reaffirm their "dedication to strengthening unions and helping [workers] by urgently passing legislation like the PRO Act and the Raise the Wage Act."

Both of those bills were passed by House Democrats during the current congressional session but never stood a chance in the legislative "graveyard" of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). With two runoff races in Georgia scheduled for January, control of the upper chamber next year remains uncertain.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (H.R.2474) features several provisions that progressives collectively celebrated as one of the most significant efforts to expand workers' rights in decades. The Raise the Wage Act (H.R.582) would increase the federal minimum wage from its current $7.25 up to $15.

Whether or not the Democrats can pull off another pair of wins in Georgia to seize control of the Senate, Pocan, Norcross, and labor leaders are hopeful that the Biden administration will usher in a new era of expanded protections and benefits for workers and their families.

"Labor has shaped my life, taking me from the construction site to Congress," Norcross explained. "While the Trump administration has tried to diminish labor rights, President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration understands the dignity of work and that workers' rights are human rights."

"Every American worker should have the opportunity to earn a fair day's wage for a fair day's work, and working families deserve a bigger voice in Congress," he added. "I look forward to working together with our brothers and sisters in Labor to pass legislation for American workers and their futures."

At least one labor group is already expressing excitement about the new caucus created by Norcross and Pocan, and what it may be able to accomplish on Capitol Hill: Communications Workers of America (CWA), the nation's largest union for communications and media workers.

"It is absolutely imperative that we return this country back into the hands of working people and the Labor Caucus will do just that," said Shane Larson, senior director for government affairs and policy at CWA. "Congressman Pocan and Norcross are card-carrying union members and we are proud to support their efforts to prioritize workers' rights and the labor movement in Congress."

"The Democratic Party has long been the party of unions and working families," he said, "and the Labor Caucus will ensure that legacy endures in every Congress to come."

The Labor Caucus announcement comes on the second day of Meeting The Moment: Building A More Resilient Nation, a virtual gathering hosted by the Progressive Caucus Action Fund. The first day of the event featured remarks from Pocan, who is soon departing from his role as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), as well as Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who will soon take over as that caucus' sole chair following a major overhaul approved by a majority of members earlier this week.

"As a lifelong organizer, I know that we have to be bold, be courageous, and quickly prove to people that we care about them, their pocket books, their livelihoods, their families, and their futures," Jayapal said Thursday. "We need to deliver real results to working people, vulnerable people, young people, Black and brown people, immigrants, and people who don't think government can work for them."

In terms of Biden's defeat of Trump, "progressives were the translators of that message on the ground during this election and the organizers of people across America as they were determining whether or not to give democracy one more chance," Jayapal added. "If we do not deliver results that lift them up and make a real impact in their lives, we will potentially lose them for a generation."

As Pocan put it: "It's not so much about having the moment, but having a movement, and that's [what] we have. Let's celebrate the movement we have!"

Echoing Jayapal, the congressman said that "the movement we have is one where we have so many progressives across the country came out during that election, that is really the reason why we are at the place we are with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris coming in to be president and vice president."

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