Trumka praises inclusion of PRO Act fines in key money bill
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., finishes talking to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 12, 2021, following his meeting with President Joe Biden. Late the following day, July 13, Sanders described the infrastructure reconciliation bill as the most significant legislation since the Great Depression. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shumer called it the most significant bill in generations. Richard Trumka, president of the nation's largest labor federation, praised the bill at a July 15 press conference. | Susan Walsh/AP

WASHINGTON—Hefty fines for corporate labor-law breaking, a top part of the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, have been inserted into the Senate Democrats’ key money bill, a budget “reconciliation” measure which right-wing Senate Republicans can’t filibuster.

“Parts of the PRO Act are part of reconciliation,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told People’s World at an outdoor July 15 press conference.

“Some of it can’t get in,” due to the rules that restrict “reconciliation” bills to taxing and spending only, Trumka admitted. “But the (PRO Act) fines and things having to do with monetary policy are in,” he elaborated.

Those fines are hefty and meant as a deterrent, unlike penalties imposed on law-breaking employers under the National Labor Relations Act. But since they raise money, they meet reconciliation bill rules, limiting the measure to raising and spending money. The reconciliation bill would also repeal much of the Trump-GOP 2017 tax cut for corporations and the rich.

The PRO Act would fine labor law-breakers $50,000 per offense, and each offense would be a separate count, rather than having law-breaking against multiple workers rolled all into one charge. Chronic law-breakers, such as Walmart, would face $100,000 fines per offense.

By contrast, the NLRA imposes fines equal to the net back pay for each worker harmed, minus that workers’ earnings while she’s seeking justice. And the bosses have to post a “we won’t do it again” notice in the workplace.

Those small penalties and bulletin-board notices mean bosses can treat illegal firing of workers for even advocating unionizing as a small cost of doing business. And they profit because the firings have a chilling effect on other workers and on union organizing.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said at a press conference today that he was glad the Pro Act’s hefty fines for labor law breaking are included in the multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation package the Democrats intend to pass. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

Trumka discussed the PRO Act after introducing and praising the Texas state Democratic legislators who flew out of Austin to D.C. to stop their right-wing GOP colleagues from passing more repressive voting legislation targeting Blacks and browns than the Lone Star State already has on its books.

Their struggle was the main topic of the press conference, along with the need for the Senate to step in, kill the filibuster, and pass comprehensive voting and electoral reform, which would overturn such anti-voter GOP-pushed state measures from coast to coast. The filibuster also threatens the PRO Act, but reconciliation bills can’t be filibustered.

The federation’s members will fan out the week of July 17, and beyond, in a massive door-to-door on-the-ground campaign to lock in three wavering Democratic senators on the PRO Act and to push resistant Republicans to agree to it, too. Now they’ll talk about reconciliation, and Texas, too.

The Democrats’ $3.5 trillion “reconciliation” measure, now including the PRO Act’s fines as a revenue-raiser, also expands Medicare coverage to glasses, dental care, and hearing aids, enacts climate change control plans, would lower prescription drug costs, and even rewrites federal immigration policy, among other goals.

Reconciliation bills go through San. Bernie Sanders’ Budget Committee and every panel Democrat joined Vermont independent Sanders and Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. at a press conference late on July 13 to announce the framework. Most details, however, are still being hashed out. The PRO Act fines are one of the already-crafted exceptions.

The next day, Democratic President Joe Biden held a luncheon-pep talk with the Democrats to push reconciliation. “This is the most significant piece of legislation passed since the Great Depression, and I’m delighted to be part of having helped to put it together,” Sanders said after the outline was unveiled late in the evening of July 13.

Trumka, the Texans, and the other speakers all linked voting rights with workers’ rights, and that included the PRO Act. Passing it would be especially important to workers in the Lone Star State, the nation’s second most populous and notorious “right to work” haven. It even bans bargaining by public sector unions.

“It’s about power,” Texas Democratic State Rep. Chris Turner, the delegation leader said of the motives of the state’s ruling Republicans and their right-wing and corporate backers. “They want to keep the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour. They oppose workers’ rights. They oppose paid sick leave. They oppose workplace safety. And they oppose voting rights.”

The PRO Act’s fines and fees made it into reconciliation. By implication, the rest of the measure–the most comprehensive pro-worker federal labor law rewrite since the original National Labor Relations Act of 1935—did not, for internal congressional rules reasons.

Those omitted sections would undo most of the damage inflicted on workers and the right to organize by corporate criminals determined to stop unions at all costs—legal and illegal–subsequent GOP laws, federal court rulings, and hostile decisions from any GOP-run National Labor Relations Boards.

Omitted sections would also repeal federal authority for state so-called “right to work” laws, a racist relic of the 1940s beloved by big business and the radical right.

They would also erase many of the hurdles against union organizing, including the inordinate delays businesses and the NLRB have thrown up over the years. It would write card-check recognition, which the board approved almost 60 years ago, into law. It would mandate that if the two sides can’t agree on a first contract after the union wins an election, they must go to impartial arbitration.

Other key provisions would crack down on union-busters and curb bosses’ use of several legal dodges they now employ to ban workers from unionizing or bargaining, such as misclassifying workers as “independent contractors” without the right to organize. And the PRO Act would mandate a big firm and its local franchises—think McDonald’s—are “joint employers” who are also jointly responsible for obeying or breaking labor law and for bargaining with workers.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).