Why the PRO Act makes sense for workers and the middle class

July 20, 2021 12:03 am

Committee ranking member Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) talks with committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning foreign influence operations’ use of social media platforms, on Capitol Hill, Sept. 5, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

By Thomas King

Over the past few months, advocates, including the Democratic Socialists of America, labor unions and other groups, have made more than a million calls to encourage voters who support labor rights to call their senators in support of the PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize). Since we began, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Angus King (Ind.-ME) have switched positions in favor of the PRO Act. Only three Democrats stood in the way of a majority vote for the PRO Act, both Arizona Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema and Virginia’s own Mark Warner. Much of the PRO Act is reportedly being inserted as part of the next reconciliation bill, where the same simple-majority dynamic could stall it once again.

This historic legislation would combine a series of labor law reforms that have stalled out when previous administrations have attempted to get them passed piecemeal. The PRO Act would level the playing field between employers and workers seeking to organize by simplifying how the term “employee” is defined when forming a union, overturning right to work laws at the federal level, and expanding the definition of what qualifies as unfair labor practices (union-busting).

The consequences of the last 50 years of a shrinking labor movement have been disastrous. As President Biden has said, the PRO Act is essential because America’s middle class was strongest when union participation was highest.

(Economic Policy Institute)


Without strong unions, Americans have seen their share of the economic pie decline year after year. At the same time, employers have seized on this loss of power to draw more and more productivity out of their workforce without having to pay higher wages. Despite the last decades being one of the greatest periods of wealth generation in human history, most Americans wages’ have been stagnant with the pace of inflation.

(Economic Policy Institute)

Virginia, known for its business-friendly laws, has usually had a terrible record for worker’s rights. Oxfam America rated Virginia as the 51st state (DC is included in these rankings) for worker’s rights in 2019, but due to a host of emergency protections during the COVID-19 pandemic and some changes in the most recent General Assembly session Virginia moved up to a still very bad 37th place in 2020. At the same time, Forbes (and others) consistently rates Virginia the top state for business owners. This is not a coincidence.

Virginia Republicans have been warning Democratic control was bad for business. CNBC disagrees.

On July 14, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders announced that the PRO Act was being incorporated into the next budget reconciliation bill. This process allows a simple majority vote for approval, avoiding the need to get anti-labor rights Republicans onboard. It’s unclear which portions of the PRO Act will make it, but most agree that higher financial penalties for union-busting employers is very likely to be included.

We stand in solidarity with the labor movement in full support of the PRO Act. The Democratic Socialists of America is a national member organization committed to struggling for a democracy that is truly people-powered. The PRO Act is a pro-democracy bill. It gives workers agency over their work, where most people spend at least half their waking day. As we learn more about which portions of the PRO Act made it to the reconciliation process, we are sure to see the same senators staking out their opposition to even the most meager pro-worker legislation.  

Thomas King is a Navy veteran and a member of the Richmond Democratic Socialists of America PRO Act Working Group. 


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