April 23, 2021
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he would cosponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (S. 420/H.R. 842), leaving only three Senate Democrats who have not expressed support or opposition to the measure. Manchin pledged to work with “my colleagues on both sides of the aisle” to find the bipartisan support needed to obtain the 60 votes necessary for passage under current Senate rules.
Focus now shifts to 3 Democratic holdouts: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated he will bring the bill to the Senate floor if it has all 50 Democratic votes. Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, and Virginian Mark Warner, are the remaining Democratic holdouts. They each represent states with Right to Work laws that would be preempted by the PRO Act. This did not deter Manchin, however, whose state also has such a law.
Is the filibuster still a safeguard? The House has already passed the PRO Act. However, even with all 50 Democrats plus tie-breaking Vice President Kamala Harris, the bill would still need to pick up 10 Republican votes to achieve the 60 votes needed to cut off debate in the Senate. As of now, there are not sufficient Democratic votes to change the rules to eliminate that requirement. There may be an effort to attach the bill to a budget reconciliation measure, which could not be filibustered. But those measures may only include taxation and spending provisions, and the Senate Parliamentarian has taken a strict approach to interpreting that requirement.
Evolving views of moderates: In the last major labor law battle (over the so-called “card check” bill, which was far more modest than the PRO Act) moderate Senate Democrats were the key to preventing its passage. At the time, their opposition was more crucial, since the Democrats held 60 Senate seats for a brief period during the Obama administration. What is disconcerting is that in the current Congress those Democrats perceived as moderates in both the House and Senate seem to be far less reluctant to sign onto a bill that is far more sweeping. This is also occurring at a time when there is a rift between large companies and many Republicans, who ordinarily form solid opposition to such measures.
Why it’s important: Congressional labor debates have apparently evolved from scrutiny of specific measures—such as card checks—to a simplistic debate over whether unions should be empowered in general. Thus, actions like Manchin’s are ominous. The business community will need to double down on its efforts to ensure that members of Congress, regardless of any favorable views about unions generally, are aware of the enormous implications of the PRO Act for employers, employees, and the overall economy.