D.C. under deluge demanding passage of Build Back Better agenda
Lawmakers in the House and in the Senate in the Capitol are deluged now with demands that they approve Biden's Build Back Better Agenda. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

WASHINGTON—With key votes looming on everything in President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda from labor law reform to legalizing undocumented people, droves of citizens groups are intensively lobbying lawmakers to ensure looming legislation aids their progressive causes.

In the week Congress returned, starting Sept. 20, everybody and their mothers-in-law descended on Congress with demonstrations, e-mails, phone banks, toll-free call-ins, and petitions.

Literally, mothers-in-law. Moms Rising was one group that massed its members for the blitz.

Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan “includes historic investments in paid family and medical leave, child care and early learning systems, a permanent extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit, and more to boost our economy and families,” Moms Rising said, seeking signers for its petition.

“But now, as Congress prepares to vote, some conservative lawmakers are trying to water the package down or, even worse, block it entirely. We can’t allow that to happen. Sign MomsRising’s urgent petition today if you agree Congress must invest in care infrastructure now.”

As might be expected, the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions were leading the way. Federation President Liz Shuler posted a toll-free number,  833-770-1697, for workers to call senators to campaign for legalization and comprehensive immigration reform covering the 10 million to11 million undocumented people in the U.S.

“The best way to strengthen our democracy and economy is by empowering working people—no exceptions,” her e-mail begins. “However, millions of undocumented immigrants, who are vital to our economic recovery, still live in fear because of our outdated and inhumane immigration system.

“It’s time to put an end to this injustice. All people who live and work here deserve a job with full rights and protections. So tell your senators to pass a budget that includes a broad pathway to citizenship.”

It also would feature “good union jobs,” and the Communications Workers extended that point to cover all of labor law reform in their call to action. Government Affairs Director Dan Mauer said the union plans a phone bank on the afternoon and evening of Sept. 23 and is gathering signatures on a mass petition at CWA.org/BuildBackBetterAct.

“Build Back Better will create jobs, cut taxes, lower costs for working families, and make it easier for workers to join unions,” Mauer explained. It also “includes historic labor reforms that will help more workers join unions and give members more power to negotiate for better wages and working conditions.”

The reforms all come from the Protect The Right To Organize Act, labor’s #1 legislative priority. They include much higher fines against employers—including corporate CEOs and board members—who break labor law or condone doing so and a longer list of labor law-breaking violations—such as holding captive audience meetings and employing “permanent replacements” for economic strikers.

The Service Employees and the National Domestic Workers Alliance planned a “Care Can’t Wait” rally on Capitol Hill on the afternoon of Sept. 23. The two unions, and their allies, brandished a new Hart Research Poll showing 81% support for the section of Build Back Better that would raise domestic workers’ wages, especially for home care workers, and pump millions of more dollars into building and rehabbing care centers. That’s 15 percentage points more than support for the whole Build Back Better agenda, SEIU and NDWA noted.

“From coast to coast, people of all backgrounds are raising their voices to say care can’t wait,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. “Home care workers—the Black, Latina, Asian, white, indigenous and immigrant women who have cared for our nation throughout the Covid-19 pandemic—have been excluded from labor laws and protections, and forced to make do on poverty wages.

“This new poll shows there is no debate. It’s time for Congress to meet the moment and deliver a once-in-a-generation investment in the care economy that transforms home care jobs into good, union, living-wage jobs and ensures everyone who needs care services can access them.”

The federation wasn’t the sole group campaigning for migrants and their rights. TPS Action and the Laborers teamed up for a Sept. 21 march, demonstration, and street theater to highlight the plight of a subgroup of the migrants, some 500,000 workers and their families who have been in the U.S. for decades on Temporary Protected Status.

TPS beneficiaries, virtually all people of color, are a huge share of unionized construction workers. They fled war, civil unrest, natural disasters, and violent gangs in Latin America, Syria, and North Africa. They renew their visas, with fees, every six months or so. Courts stopped Trump’s threat to deport all of them.

The estimated 700,000-800,000 people brought to the U.S. as kids, without papers, by their parents—says the Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth McDonough—don’t meet rules to fit into legislation to implement Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. UWD wants supporters to call or e-mail lawmakers on that issue—and overrule her. Immigration reform would cover the TPS holders, among others.

“Despite a strong precedent and a substantial budgetary impact for including citizenship for immigrant youth, TPS holders and essential workers, this unelected advisor…recommended against it as a formality,” the Dreamers said.  They are the leading organization representing all of those young people. The parliamentarian’s ruling is non-binding, in any case, and should not be used as an excuse to scuttle major immigration law reform.

Democratic leaders, including Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer “still hold all the power to do the right thing and deliver a pathway to citizenship for millions. This isn’t over. The parliamentarian doesn’t make decisions–but the Democrats we helped elect do,” the Dreamers said.

That push may not get very far, though. Schumer is already talking about an unspecified namby-pamby yet-to-be-revealed compromise.

As if the Build Back Better agenda wasn’t enough on Congress’s plate, Public Citizen launched a late push to cut the military budget by 10%. And on Sept. 20, Sunrise Movement activists descended on the Phoenix office of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to demand she support Build Back Better’s billions of dollars to combat climate change.

“While Sen. Sinema caters to fossil fuel executives in D.C., young Arizonans are outside her office demanding she listen to them as they face record drought and extreme heatwaves killing their communities,” Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash said in a follow-up statement.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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