Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will support a measure that would block state right-to-work laws, including the one in West Virginia.
Manchin announced his support for the federal PRO Act Monday morning during a National Press Club virtual conference about climate change and how to bolster communities whose economies have relied on the coal industry, in particular.
During his opening remarks, Manchin said he supports the act, saying 50% of unions fail in the first year after they’re organized.
“That is plain wrong,” Manchin said. “This legislation will level the playing field.”
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers union, who also was part of the National Press Club event, thanked Manchin for his support of the measure.
“I think we just made some history here, with respect to the PRO Act,” Roberts said. “I want to thank him for that, because that’s part of what we’re suggesting here today as to what needs to happen in Appalachia.”
The House of Representatives adopted the bill on March 9. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., was the lead sponsor in the House.
All of West Virginia’s representatives in the House voted against the bill.
Manchin’s support is significant, given his centrist position in the evenly divided Senate, but his backing isn’t enough to guarantee the measure will cross the finish line. Other Democrats have yet to offer support for the resolution, The Hill reported Monday.
PRO Act is short for Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021.
West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword released a statement Monday expressing his support for Manchin’s stance on the PRO Act. Sword said the PRO Act would be “how we build a better future for West Virginia’s working people.”
“It is no coincidence that 60% of our country would join a union today, if given the opportunity, but just 10% of America’s workers belong to one,” Sword said. “For nearly a century, the odds have been stacked against our working people. And in that time, inequality has skyrocketed. Wages have fallen. And corporations have gotten away with countless instances of illegal union busting and workplace harassment.”
The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace released a statement Monday calling the senator’s support for the PRO Act disappointing.
“We hope Manchin will reconsider co-sponsoring this legislation, as his legacy of bipartisanship will be irrevocably tainted if he supports anti-worker legislation that invades employees’ privacy and will kill West Virginia jobs, while taking the hard-earned income away from small businesses and employees to boost the coffers of organized labor,” Kristen Swearingen, chairwoman of the Coalition, said.
The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace is comprised of business and industry representatives who are “joined by their mutual concern over regulatory overreach by the National Labor Relations Board that threatened employees, employers, and economic growth,” according to the organization’s website.
If the federal resolution becomes law, it would restore a requirement for all employees represented by a union or other bargaining unit to contribute fees to that organization for the cost of that representation. That provision contradicts what are known as right-to-work laws.
In both instances, the Legislature voted to override gubernatorial vetoes of the bills.
West Virginia’s right-to-work law banned labor unions from collecting dues from nonunion employees while allowing those employees to receive the benefit of the union’s wage and benefit negotiations.
In April 2020, the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, putting to an end four years worth of legal challenges and injunctions against the law that opponents said was an illegal taking of union resources.
At the time the court handed down its opinion, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a statement saying the ruling was a “major victory for worker choice.”
Other provisions of the PRO Act would prohibit private employers from taking action against employees and unions that conduct strikes; protect teachers and staff at private schools who choose to strike; prohibit employers from having employees sign away their rights to pursue or join collective or class-action lawsuits regarding labor practices; and allow for employees to vote in union elections remotely by telephone or online, among other things.
The PRO Act wouldn’t block a law the Legislature passed this session that declares public employee strikes unlawful and grounds for termination, a spokesperson with Manchin’s office said Monday. Gov. Jim Justice allowed the measure, Senate Bill 11, to become law without his signature in March.
The PRO Act bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.