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Manchin Backs Labor Law Overhaul, Raising Stakes in Senate (2)

April 19, 2021, 6:16 PM; Updated: April 19, 2021, 10:41 PM

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he would vote for a sweeping package of pro-labor reforms approved by the House last month, a development that offers unions hope as they work to break a Senate logjam holding up their top legislative priority.

In a virtual event at the National Press Club on Monday, Manchin said he would co-sponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize Act but offered few specifics on how Democrats could circumvent a 60-vote Senate rule to get the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Still, support from Manchin—a Democrat from a deep-red coal state regarded as the Senate’s most sought-after swing vote—could help union leaders revive momentum for the legislation, which remains stalled in a wider debate over the filibuster.

“This legislation will level the playing field,” Manchin said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move this bill through a legislative process.”

The bill would amount to the biggest boost to organized labor since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. It would impose harsher penalties for employers that violate workers’ federal union rights, abolish state “right-to-work” laws that allow employees to opt out of paying union fees, and give thousands of gig-economy workers the same right to organize as full-time employees, among a host of other changes.

The bill would also ban companies during union elections from holding mandatory meetings in which workers must listen to anti-union messages—a tactic that helped Amazon.com Inc. prevail in the recent union election in Bessemer, Ala.

Silent on Filibuster

Manchin didn’t say whether he had changed his stance on ending the filibuster, a Senate procedure that effectively requires 60 votes to pass a bill. He and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are seen as the two main opponents of that effort among Senate Democrats, along with Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.). Biden has expressed support for keeping the filibuster in place, to the chagrin of union leaders.

The AFL-CIO executive council last month unanimously passed a resolution calling for an end to the filibuster, referring to it as “an artifact of Jim Crow [and] a creature of white supremacy.”

Biden’s plan for a $2 trillion infrastructure package included a call to incorporate the PRO Act (H.R. 842), signaling that the bill has slim chances of passing on its own.

While Manchin didn’t specify how he’d seek to pass the PRO Act, a leader of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades called the senator’s support a tipping point for the legislation.

“If the Georgia delegation can support PRO, so can Arizona. If Senator Manchin can support PRO, so can Senator Warner,” said Jim Williams Jr., the union’s general vice president at large. “We will continue to mobilize and organize the working class in this country because we know that our members, across the partisan divide, overwhelmingly support the PRO Act.”

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which represents employers opposed to the legislation, said Manchin’s legacy of bipartisanship would be “irrevocably tainted” by his support of the bill.

“It is very disappointing that Senator Manchin has chosen to side with union bosses over West Virginia’s workers and small businesses, especially during a time of economic turmoil,” the group’s chair, Kristen Swearingen, said in an emailed statement.

After Manchin’s announcement, only Sinema, Kelly, and Warner had yet to sign on as co-sponsors of the PRO Act among Senate Democrats.

Sinema and Warner didn’t respond to requests for comment on Monday. A spokesman for Kelly said the senator is evaluating his position on the PRO Act and discussing the bill with stakeholders in Arizona. Kelly “puts a high value on bipartisanship” and makes decisions based on what is best for Arizona, the aide said.

— With assistance from Andrew Kreighbaum

(Added comment from Mark Kelly aide in paragraph 14.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Kullgren in Washington at ikullgren@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Travis Tritten at ttritten@bgov.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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