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Teamsters

Senate Dems to Include Important PRO Act Provision in Budget Bill

The reconciliation bill is expected to include major fines for union-busting employers

Brian Young's picture
Jul 20, 2021

With the PRO Act seemingly stuck in the mud, lacking a majority of Democratic Senators' support and lacking any Republican Senators supporting it, Democratic Senators are coming up with a way to push at least one union priority through. Their plan is to take an important part of the PRO Act and include it in the upcoming budget reconciliation bill that will only need 50 Democrats' support to pass.

According to union officials, congressional staffers, and the Biden administration, the new plan is to include a change to the law that would allow the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to impose monetary penalties on employers who commit labor violations in the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill. This bill will pass through a process called budget reconciliation which means that it would only need the 50 Senators to support it.

Under the PRO Act, the NLRB would be able to impose $50,000 fines per labor violation and that would increase to $100,000 per violation for repeat offenders, on top of damages that are recouped by workers like back wages. It is unclear if Democrats will try to include this same plan in the reconciliation bill or will pair down the fines to gain more support. Democrats believe that since this is a monetary issue, it has the best chance of getting past the Senate parliamentarian who has the final say on what can and cannot be included in the reconciliation bill. Since this is a financial issue, they believe that the fines have a good shot of being included while more policy-oriented sections of the PRO Act like repealing right to work would not. If the change is able to get passed, it would amount to a major policy change and a big win for unions who have been pushing for adding teeth to NLRB penalties. The fines are seen as a major deterrent for businesses, especially smaller and mid-sized ones with limited profit margins, who could see hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in fines for trying to illegally stop a union from coming into their workplace.

“Creating financial penalties for unlawful anti-union activity will finally deter employers from violating the law and will better protect workers’ rights,” said House labor committee chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.), one of the PRO Act’s authors. “The only people who should worry about these penalties are the executives committing unfair labor practices and currently getting away with it.”

Publicly labor leaders are still pushing hard for a full PRO Act to get passed. This includes planning a Week of Action this week that includes events at all 100 Senators' offices. Some events have already begun like New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand joining the New York State AFL-CIO to call for passage of the bill. Other events include the ongoing Wednesday rallies in Virginia to push Senator Mark Warner to support the PRO Act and a rally in Fairbanks Alaska to pressure Senator Lisa Murkowski to support the bill.

“This legislation is absolutely critical in its entirety,” Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, told reporters last week. Schuler said the AFL-CIO isn’t willing “to start negotiating away” parts of the PRO Act, which the House approved in March but which seems unable to get to the 60 vote threshold that is needed to pass it in the Senate

However, Bloomberg is reporting that behind the scenes the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have been pressuring Senate Democrats to include at least parts of the PRO Act in the reconciliation bill to ensure that at least some of their priorities get passed into law. By including the fines in the bill, Senate Democrats would be admitting that they can’t pass the PRO Act, while still showing that they are interested in taking action to protect workers who are organizing. Sources told Bloomberg that Senate Democrats are also considering other parts of the PRO Act to be included in the reconciliation bill including enacting a stricter “ABC” test to questions of worker misclassification, tax credits on union dues, and providing enforcement money for labor agencies. However, these are still up in the air as it is not clear if they will be able to get past the Senate Parliamentarian.

The Senate is expected to take up the reconciliation bill in the coming weeks. Senate Majority Leader Schumer is pushing for a vote this week on the smaller bi-partisan infrastructure plan. Once that vote is done, he is expected to push for the Democrats-only bill.

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