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Washington Democrats step up for workers on PRO Act

Both senators, 7 representatives sponsor bill to build back better with unions


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 11, 2021) — “If you stand on the side of workers,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said recently, “you won’t just vote for the PRO Act — you’ll sponsor it, you’ll whip for it, and you won’t rest until it’s signed into law.”

By that measure, both of Washington’s U.S. senators and all seven of the state’s Democratic U.S. representatives are standing on the side of workers, having signed on to sponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a generational opportunity to restore the freedom to form unions and change the power dynamics in America to benefit working families. In fact, as lead sponsors, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Pramila Jayapal are leading the charge.

The PRO Act is comprehensive labor legislation that would strengthen workers’ right to organize a union and bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. It would also hold corporations accountable for union-busting and repeal so-called “right to work” laws, which were created during the Jim Crow era to keep White and Black workers from unionizing together.

This legislation passed the U.S. House in 2020, but was blocked by an anti-labor majority in the Senate. Last fall, this bill motivated union members across the nation to mobilize for a pro-worker trifecta in the U.S. House, Senate and White House. And last week, it was reintroduced as H.R. 842.

“I want to sincerely thank all Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Representatives Marilyn Strickland, Adam Smith, Kim Schrier, Pramila Jayapal, Derek Kilmer, Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene for stepping up and being champions for this critical legislation,” said Larry Brown, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Each one of them is showing true leadership on the best way for America and Washington state to build our economy back better — with unions!”

Here is what each of them had to say about the importance of passing the PRO Act.

“After decades of wealthy corporations undermining our labor laws and four years of the Trump Administration’s attacks on workers’ rights, the PRO Act will restore workers’ ability to join together to demand their fair share of the economic growth they drive,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “This legislation is critical to supporting workers in Washington state and across the country during this pandemic and to building back an economy that works for everyone — not just those at the very top. It’s time we pass the PRO Act and protect workers’ right to stand together and fight for better pay, quality health care, a safer workplace, and a secure retirement.”

“As someone who organized for working people and true economic justice before coming to Congress, I know that America still has a long ways to go to guarantee every worker a fair and safe workplace where they are treated with dignity and without discrimination,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-7th), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor. “I am proud to co-lead the PRO Act as we not only reverse the damage done by Republicans’ anti-worker policies but as we also put power back into the hands of workers while expanding their right to organize and bargain for themselves, promoting a fair economy, and strengthening laws to protect all working people throughout our country.”

“Too many middle-class families struggle to make ends meet and too many people work long hours for too little pay,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). “In the State of Washington, we know the power of unions and organized labor first hand. We need to strengthen collective bargaining and support working families.”

“As someone with a history of partnering across sectors and groups to support working families and foster economic growth, I know how to strike a balance,” said Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-10th). “The PRO Act restores the long-lost balance between workers and employers. I am proud to support the PRO Act and will continue to work for equitable and inclusive economic opportunity for all.”

“Strong unions are paramount for combating economic inequality and ensuring workers’ rights are protected,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-9th). “The PRO Act would be the most significant upgrade to U.S. labor law in 80 years which would strengthen workers’ power to organize and negotiate for fairer paychecks, better benefits, and safer working conditions… The COVID-19 pandemic has further shown how vulnerable workers truly are without the ability to collectively bargain and how crucial it is to ensuring workers have better pay, benefits, and safety. After decades of attacks on workers’ rights to organize and profits off of rising income inequality, passing the PRO Act will take a giant step towards restoring a fair and equitable economy that empowers workers to hold companies and executives accountable for working conditions.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a great toll on the economy and brought to light how vulnerable workers can be during these difficult times,” said Rep. Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-8th). “Strong unions are more essential than ever so that Washingtonians can collectively bargain for safe working conditions, family wages, and good, affordable health care. That’s why I cosponsored the PRO Act because it is my duty as a public servant to protect workers’ rights.”

“The American economy should reward hard work, but many in this country are working too hard for too little. We know that when workers have the power to stand together and form a union, they see higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions – and, ultimately, a better ability to keep pace with the rising costs of housing, childcare, education, and other basic needs,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-6th). “That’s why I’m co-sponsoring the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act – which takes steps toward reinvigorating the American middle class by empowering hardworking people to stand together and form a union. We need an economy where everyone can succeed, and this bill is a vital step in the right direction.”

“When unions are strong, Washington state’s working women and men see higher wages, better benefits and a safer workplace,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-2nd). “I support the PRO Act to protect workers’ right to organize, collectively bargain and hold employers accountable when they violate workers’ rights.”

“Workers are the backbone of the American economy and for too long their bargaining ability has been undermined by so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws and anti-labor practices,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-1st). “We know when workers can collectively bargain for better wages, good health care, safer working conditions, and a secured retirement they, their families, and their communities thrive. The PRO Act is a powerful tool that will support workers in Washington state and across the country to better organize and negotiate so they can share in the economic growth and productivity they power.”

The most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression, the PRO Act will:

●  Empower workers to exercise our freedom to organize and bargain.
●  Ensure that workers can reach a first contract quickly after a union is recognized.
●  End employers’ practice of punishing striking workers by hiring permanent replacements. Speaking up for labor rights is within every worker’s rights — and workers shouldn’t lose our jobs for it.
●  Hold corporations accountable by strengthening the National Labor Relations Board and allowing it to penalize employers who retaliate against working people in support of the union or collective bargaining.
●  Repeal so-called “right to work” laws — divisive and racist laws created during the Jim Crow era — that lead to lower wages, fewer benefits and more dangerous workplaces.
●  Create pathways for workers to form unions, without fear, in newer industries like Big Tech.

For a fact sheet on the PRO Act, click here.

For a section-by-section of the PRO Act, click here.

The PRO Act is the centerpiece of the AFL-CIO’s Workers First Agenda that aims to transform the lives of working people through bold, structural change.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!