Bernie Sanders Demands Senate Take up Pro-Union Bill, but Tough Fight Looms

Sen. Bernie Sanders has called on his Senate colleagues to support the PRO Act that passed the House on Tuesday, which advocates say would be the most significant labor reform in the U.S. for generations.

The act would strengthen the rights of American workers to strike for better wages and working conditions, introduce new protections for union elections, and give the National Labor Relations Board the power to fine employers who violate workers' rights, among other reforms.

The PRO Act was approved by the House by 225-206 votes, but now faces a tough fight in the 50-50 Senate with Republican lawmakers expected to filibuster the effort and not all Democrats guaranteed to support the legislation.

The House already passed a similar bill last year, but it had no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate. Its supporters are now pushing again, hopeful that President Joe Biden's commitment to be "the most pro-union president you've ever seen" will help the legislation over the line despite staunch opposition from business groups.

Sanders appealed to colleagues on Twitter to take up the bill on Tuesday. "The trade union movement is the last line of defense against a billionaire class that won't be satisfied until they have it all," Sanders said.

But the legislation is highly unlikely to win the 60 Senate votes needed to avoid a Republican filibuster. Five House Republicans voted for the legislation, but the vast majority of GOP members stood against the bill, despite recent claims from prominent party members that the GOP has become the true party of the working class.

House Republicans who opposed the legislation said it would limit the freedoms of small businesses owners, entrepreneurs and independent workers.

Such arguments prompted fury across the aisle, with Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan shouting back at his Republican colleagues: "Heaven forbid we pass something that's going to help the damn workers in the United States of America."

Even if PRO Act supporters can win over all 50 Democrats in the Senate, absent sudden filibuster reform the legislation will likely not reach Biden's desk in its current form.

NBC News reported there have been discussions about incorporating elements of the PRO Act into the next Senate budget reconciliation package, but the bill as a whole cannot be pushed through via reconciliation.

While union groups mobilize on filibuster reform, business groups are advocating against the PRO Act. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, said the bill would "destabilize America's workplaces and impose a long list of dangerous changes to labor law."

Biden touted his pro-worker credentials on the campaign trail and has thrown his weight behind the PRO Act. Biden has already praised Amazon workers in Alabama for voting to unionize last week, describing the move as "a vitally important choice."

In a White House statement released Tuesday, Biden urged Congress to "send the PRO Act to my desk so we can seize the opportunity to build a future that reflects working people's courage and ambition, and offers not only good jobs with a real choice to join a union—but the dignity, equity, shared prosperity and common purpose the hardworking people who built this country and make it run deserve."

"As America works to recover from the devastating challenges of deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and reckoning on race that reveals deep disparities, we need to summon a new wave of worker power to create an economy that works for everyone," Biden said.

Bernie Sanders pictured at committee hearing
Sen. Bernie Sanders is pictured at a Senate Budget Committee on Capitol Hill, on February 25, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images