Protesters in Norfolk will urge Warner to support union-strengthening PRO Act

Norfolk

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that 40% of Democrats support the PRO Act. 40% of Republicans support the bill, along with 74% of Democrats.


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Protesters plan to gather outside Sen. Mark Warner’s office in Norfolk on Wednesday to pressure him to sign the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

The Eastern Virginia Labor Federation, AFL-CIO is holding the protest from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the World Trade Center building downtown.

“Our labor laws are outdated and no longer protect our right to form and join unions, the group said in a press release. “The PRO Act is the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression. The PRO Act will hold corporations accountable for union-busting and strengthen democracy in the workplace, protect workers’ rights to form and join unions, including in new industries like Big Tech, repeal racist ‘right to work’ laws and more.”

Warner is among a handful of Democrats who’ve refused to support the proposal, which would expand employees’ right to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace. Arizona Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema are the other two Democrats who’ve yet to sign on. Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) supports the bill.

The PRO Act, supported by President Joe Biden, a self-described union man, passed the House back in March with all but one Democrat, but only 5 Republicans. It has little chance of passing in the Senate, barring filibuster reform. 10 Republicans would have to join the Senate’s 50 Democrats for it to pass.

Though Democrats said last week they’re trying to include it in their $3.5 trillion infrastructure package, which would only need a simple majority of 50 votes to pass through reconciliation.

However the centrist Warner has the task of negotiating the Democrats’ larger bill and a $1.2 bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“In one group – you know, how can we get my friends to go to a slightly higher number? In the reconciliation negotiation, I’m trying to get folks to go a little lower, so I have to decide which hat I’m wearing,” Warner told NPR this week.

The bill does have support from voters, with 59% of likely voters saying they would support the PRO Act, according to a Vox/Data for Progress poll. That includes support from 74% of Democrats, 58% of independents and 40% of Republicans.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), the lead sponsor of the bill in the House, says the legislation is crucial to restore New Deal-era labor laws eroded over time, and protect workers’ rights.

“When workers have the power to stand together and form a union, they have higher pay, better benefits, and safer working conditions,” Scott said. “Strong unions not only benefit those represented by unions, they benefit non-union workers and the children of union members.”

Critics have argued that the PRO Act would hurt small business and cause layoffs/increase unemployment, among other issues.

“Legislation like the Democrats’ Protecting the Right to Organize Act would essentially mandate adversarial relations between labor and management,” wrote Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in an op-ed in USA Today.

The bill would override “right to work” laws like Virginia’s, which don’t require employees to join a union or pay union dues to work for a company. The law effectively weakens organized labor in the commonwealth.

Another effort to repeal Virginia’s “right to work” law was unsuccessful this year in Richmond.

The U.S.Senate HELP Committee will hold a hearing this Thursday on the PRO Act.

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