A key Senate Democrat hinted Wednesday that he would support his party’s efforts to overhaul labor law and boost union membership through landmark reforms.
Sen. Mark Kelly (Arizona) told HuffPost that he supports “the general purposes” of the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Law, and that it is open to the use of the budget reconciliation rules spend parts of it.
The bill is the most ambitious attempt to reform collective bargaining in generations. So far, Kelly has been one of a handful of moderate Democrats who have not signed on to support him. The senator said his thinking changed after speaking with Arizona employers and workers.
“I would love to see changes,” Kelly added. “I have some concerns about the legislation, especially about who can qualify as an independent contractor. Sometimes employers often use this to their advantage. In other cases, I think people should be able to be independent contractors.
Democrats currently do not have sufficient support to push through the PRO law in its entirety, but budget reconciliation may provide a way to implement one or more crucial elements during a party line vote. Kelly’s support would be essential to such an effort.
A critical measure of the PRO law that Democrats say could be passed under the reconciliation rules is the imposition of financial penalties on employers who illegally break unions.
Below current law, the penalties for so-called unfair labor practices are so low that there is little incentive to follow the law. For example, if it turns out that an employer has unlawfully dismissed a worker for attempting to organize a union, the employer usually only has to reimburse the worker’s salary, minus any salary the worker has. won elsewhere since it was canned.
Many employers who violate the national labor relations law simply need to post a notice in the workplace acknowledging that they have broken the law.
The PRO law would dramatically increase the costs of breaking the law: each unfair labor practice would be punishable by a civil fine of up to $ 50,000. Unions hope such a move would change the organizing landscape by pressuring employers not to retaliate against union supporters or bargain in bad faith on union contracts.
Many Democrats are confident that these fines could pass under the reconciliation rules because they fundraise for the federal government. In order to comply with reconciliation, a proposal must have a significant impact on federal spending and revenues.
“Depending on how it’s done, I’m not necessarily opposed to it,” Kelly said when asked to pass parts of the bill through reconciliation.
The PRO Act in its entirety would do much more than simply increase the penalties for union breakdowns. This would overturn the “right to work” laws that are now in force in the majority of states; this would make it easier for newly unionized workers to obtain a first contract; and it would strengthen the right to strike and boycott, among other measures.
One of the most controversial elements is how the law would extend collective bargaining rights to “independent contractorsWho are not employees, a provision which Kelly said he was concerned. The unions have said they want to pass the law in its entirety, but Democratic proponents of the PRO law might be willing to set aside such pieces for now if it means getting other parts of the bill through. reconciliation.
Since being elected to the Senate in a special election in 2020, Kelly has sought to cultivate a centrist personality, joining other moderate senators in drafting bipartisan infrastructure legislation and refusing to take a tough stance on it. elimination of systematic obstruction. He faces re-election next year and a number of Republican candidates have already started lining up to challenge him.
However, Kelly has also taken positions in the Senate that raised eyebrows for a Democrat who represents a GOP-heavy state like Arizona, such as his vote to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 earlier this year. His decision to embrace this effort, along with the goals of the PRO Act, stands in stark contrast to Arizona Senior Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who is not re-elected until 2024. Sinema and Sen. Mark Warner (Va. ) are the remaining Democratic refractories to push legislation forward.
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