Vermont lawmakers lead the way, passing state PRO Act
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is the leading sponsor of the national version of the PRO Act. AP

MONTPELIER, Vt.—By veto-proof margins in the state that longtime worker champion Bernie Sanders represents in the U.S. Senate, Vermont’s legislators passed a state version of the Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act, labor’s top national legislative priority.

The measure, S102, cleared the Vermont Senate by a 23-6 tally on May 9. The state House approved it before that, 115-26 with nine members not voting. It now heads for the desk of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who hasn’t said what he’ll do, yet.

Besides making Vermont labor law much more pro-worker, the Vermont PRO Act goes beyond current federal law, the National Labor Relations Act. Vermont’s bill extends the right to organize to historically barred Black and brown groups of workers, according to the Teamsters, one of a 26-group coalition of unions, civil rights groups, civic groups, and religious groups pushing it.

When Congress approved the original NLRA during the New Deal, FDR had to exclude household workers, who were mostly African-American women, and farm workers, who were mostly Spanish-speaking, to appease the then-dominant Southern segregationist wing of the Democratic Party.

“Federal labor law denies collective bargaining rights” to those two groups, the Pass the Vermont PRO Act coalition explains. “It is up to states like Vermont to end this historically racist exclusion.”

And the Vermont bill bans mandatory attendance at bosses’ “captive audience” meetings—a ban approved as a stand-alone law by other states. Under federal labor law, bosses can now discipline or even fire workers who refuse to go to those meetings and sit through anti-labor lies and harangues.

Vermont’s captive audience meetings ban, like the others, covers bosses’ demands of mandatory attendance at meetings on political or religious topics, including worker rights and union representation. Workers can still go, but only if they want to, and bosses can still harangue them.

“To protect their freedom of speech and of conscience, workers should have the right to refuse to attend without fear of discipline or termination,” the coalition adds.

The Vermont PRO Act also legalizes card-check recognition for public workers, the Teamsters said. The state AFL-CIO adds the Vermont PRO Act lets bosses fire workers only for good cause. It lists specific causes for termination—barring all others–and forces employers to follow those standards.

“Our goal is to make it easier for workers in both the private and public sectors to form a union by making it easier for workers in the public sector to form unions, expanding collective bargaining rights to agricultural and domestic workers and protecting workers’ freedom of speech by preventing employers from forcing employees to attend captive audience meetings,” the state AFL-CIO said.

“Vermont passed the Vermont State Labor Act in the 1960s with a goal of protecting the rights of the employees and the public. This is a work in progress, which will be strengthened by the Vermont PRO Act,” Curtis Clough, President of Teamsters Local 597 in Barre, told the national union. “This legislation is a game changer for workers and Gov. Scott must sign it into law immediately.”

Sanders, who chairs the U.S. Senate’s Labor Committee, hasn’t commented yet on his home state’s PRO Act, but he’s the lead Senate sponsor of the national version. A Republican filibuster threat, aided by renegade Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, has stopped the national measure from a floor vote.


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.