PRO Act Gains Momentum in Closely Divided Senate; PRINTING United Alliance Issues Call to Action to Oppose Legislation
The PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize Act) has been circulating in the US Congress for the past six years, but has recently gained national media attention and newfound legislative momentum in past weeks. Why now? How serious is the legislative impact to the printing industry, and what can print companies do to take action to oppose the bill?
Newfound Momentum for the PRO Act
An obvious driver of a more intense focus on the PRO Act (and other labor union advocacy priorities) was the 2020 election of President Biden, election of a Democrat-led US House of Representatives, and — most consequentially — the US Senate’s flip in party control from Republican to Democrat in an evenly divided chamber. The organized labor movement galvanized its members to vote and now expects to see enactment of its agenda. The inclusion of the PRO Act in President Biden’s recently rolled out “American Jobs Plan” on transportation and infrastructure has also upped the ante on Capitol Hill. Pro-labor lawmakers applauded the move while Republican lawmakers, such as influential centrist Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), blasted it, calling it inappropriate to consider union organizing policy in the context of a transportation bill.
Unlike other policy issues where bipartisanship is often sought after and praised, union organizing still draws a bright political line between the left and the right. As a practical workforce issue in the printing industry, union activity has been at a historical low, a data point that comports with national trends. According to the US Department of Labor, total unionization in America was at 10.8% in 2020; down from nearly 25% in the early 1970s. Accordingly, PRINTING United Alliance has focused its employer/employee relations policy efforts on issues that are more collaborative in nature, such as attracting next generation labor talent, navigating new rules like state legalization of marijuana, or increasing employee diversity in the print industry. The PRO Act offers no points of compromise, however.
PRO Act Attracts National Attention
Recent high-profile unionization efforts and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings have also propelled the PRO Act into headline news. In March, Tesla CEO Elon Musk drew fire from the NLRB for tweeting that employees would lose their stock options if they voted to unionize; NLRB issued a ruling against Tesla for “coercively interrogating” employees and demanded a fired worker be reinstated and that Musk’s tweet be deleted.
And last week, after an aggressive, controversial campaign by both sides (that even included celebrity endorsements from actors Tina Fey and Danny Glover, plus NFL players, in favor of the union), Amazon workers at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse rejected unionization by a decisive vote of 1,798 – 738. NLRB reported that approximately 63% of the facility’s 6,000 workers participated in the vote. Notably, the NLRB also said that of the 3,117 votes cast, 76 were voided for being completed incorrectly and 505 were tossed out due to rejections by either Amazon or the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union leading the campaign for Big Labor. NLRB stated that these non-recorded votes were not enough to sway the results and called the election for Amazon.
Union leaders are planning to file an objection with the NLRB on the basis that Amazon illegally interfered with the election and “gaslighted” its employees. In addition to setting aside the Alabama warehouse election results, labor leaders say a second appropriate remedy is the passage and enactment of the PRO Act. A “National Day of Action” was held by unions on April 8th to demand the Senate vote “yes” on the Act. Amazon has countered union criticism by stating, “Amazon didn’t win [the election] – our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”
PRINTING United Alliance’s Opposition to the PRO Act
The Amazon response encapsulates PRINTING United Alliance’s policy position on the PRO Act and union organizing in general: supporting employee choice and fair election opportunities for both employers and workers. The Alliance is a member of Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW), a cross-section of industry trade associations representing businesses of all sizes that employ millions of workers. It is the leading voice opposing the legislation on Capitol Hill. CDW was formed in 2005, with then-Printing Industries of America as a founding Steering Committee member, with its mission to oppose PRO Act-like legislation known as the “card check bill” that would have effectively ended secret ballot union elections.
In a March 4th letter to Congress (PDF), CDW and PRINTING United Alliance outlined opposition to the PRO Act by stating the bill would “threaten fundamental rights of employees and vital aspects of the U.S. economy.” Specific policy concerns noted in the letter included threats to:
- Workers’ right to choose whether or not to be represented by a union through secret ballot elections;
- Workers’ right to remove a union that has failed to adequately represent them;
- Businesses and individuals’ ability to contract with independent contractors and other businesses;
- Repeals right to work laws in 27 states eliminating workers’ right to choose not to contribute to a union they do not support;
- Americans’ opportunity to own a franchise business or work independently; and
- The government’s ability to prevent unions from expanding a labor dispute with one employer to other businesses and consumers – a change that threatens to disrupt supply chains and/or projects that are vital to our national pandemic response.
(These concerns are further conveyed in a PRINTING United Alliance-supported grassroots action alert available at www.NoPROAct.com.)
The Issue in Real-Time
So, back to the process and understanding the “Why now?” urgency surrounding the PRO Act. First, the bill (HR 842) already passed the US House by a vote of 225-206 on March 9th. On March 11th, the bill was received by the Senate and referred to committee, meaning it is wending its way through the regulator order process in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has publicly stated that he will bring the PRO Act (S 420) to a full Senate floor vote once the legislation has attained 50 Senate co-sponsors of either party. At the time of his pronouncement, the PRO Act had 45 co-sponsors (all Democrats, including bill sponsor Senator Patty Murray of WA). Since then, Senator Angus King (I-ME), considered a centrist dealmaker and a key vote on this issue, has said he is undecided on whether or not to co-sponsor. The other four Democrat Senators holding out on co-sponsoring thus far include Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly (AZ), Joe Manchin (WV) and Mark Warner (VA). Should the bill make it to the Senate floor, the pressure on centrist Republicans to support it will be immense.
Additionally, the use of the filibuster is at play dramatically in the case of the PRO Act. Under regular order with a filibuster in place, the PRO Act would be blocked due to needing 60 votes. However, should it indeed be wrapped into a large-scale transportation and infrastructure bill as called for by President Biden AND if that bill moves through the Senate under the budget reconciliation process (as did the most recent COVID-relief law), it would only need 50 votes plus one (Vice President Harris) to become law. This potential two-track approach to passing the PRO Act has increased the momentum and urgency of the issue on Capitol Hill.
What Can Print Do to Oppose the PRO Act?
If your company is concerned about the potential impact of the PRO Act, now is the time to take action. Your company and its stakeholders can act in a variety of ways, such as:
- Urge the Senate to Oppose the PRO Act (S 420) – PRINTING United Alliance has partnered with the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace to drive grassroots messages to Congress via an action alert at NoPROAct.com. Visit the site to send a message to your Senators today. If your business is in a state represented by the key decision-making Democrats listed above, make an extra effort to voice your opposition.
- Educate Yourself and Others on the PRO Act – For policy education tools like Fact Sheets, explanation videos, and more, please visit CDW’s Resources page. Also, stay up to date on the latest PRO Act news via PRINTING United Alliance and CDW.
- Help Spread the Word to Oppose the PRO Act – A grassroots Twitter campaign is underway and can be found @myprivateballot (the official CDW account). Please share tweets and other social media posts to help spread the word to print industry peers and business leaders in other industries as well.
Finally, back to Amazon. Labor policy experts were fairly stunned that a unionization bill could come as close as it did to passing in Alabama, which is one of 27 Right to Work states and historically has had little to no appetite for unions. The fact that the pro-union campaign garnered support in targeting a company that actually went on a hiring spree during the pandemic was also surprising. What’s clear is the battle lines are fiercely drawn on this issue and that both sides are ramped up for a potentially epic Congressional vote.
In this article, Lisbeth addresses the PRO Act currently under consideration by Congress. More information about this legislation can be found at www.sgia.org or reach out to Lisbeth should you have additional questions specific to how the issue may affect your business: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To become a member of PRINTING United Alliance and learn more about how PRINTING United Alliance subject matter experts can assist your company with services and resources such as those mentioned in this article, please contact the Alliance membership team: 888-385-3588 / email@example.com.
Lisbeth Lyons is Vice President, Government & Political Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance, the largest, most comprehensive graphic arts trade association in the country. With more than 20 years of experience representing the voice of business on Capitol Hill, Lisbeth advocates for public policies that protect and advance the economic future of the printing and packaging industry. She oversees PRINTING United Alliance’s legislative, political, and grassroots advocacy initiatives, and has served in executive leadership of multiple successful advocacy campaigns, such as Coalition for Paper Options, Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, and Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers Coalition.
Prior to representing PRINTING United Alliance, Lisbeth served in similar roles at Printing Industries of America, US Telecom, and the National Federation of Independent Business. She also spent three years as a K-12 teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system, where she was on the forefront of urban education reform in the mid-1990s.
Lisbeth is Midwestern born and bred, having grown up in the St. Louis metropolitan area and attended college at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, before starting her career in Washington, DC. She holds a B.A. in English/Sociology and a professional graduate certificate from The George Washington University School of Political Management. She lives in the historic Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC.
An avid leader and learner in professional development, Lisbeth was a founding member of the Government Relations Leadership Forum, and is an active participant in organizations such as Council of Manufacturing Associations, Women in Government Relations, and National Association of Business PACs, among others. Lisbeth is often a featured speaker at premier industry conferences; she has spoken to Boards of Directors, corporate executive management teams, and state and regional trade associations across the country from coast to coast.