Kera Peterson: To build back better, pass the PRO Act

Kera Peterson is president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

Millions of working people and their families are hurting in America right now. We’ve seen it firsthand at the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, as our nonprofit Labor Studies and Resource Center has begun coordinating free food-distribution events with local unions. At four events so far, union volunteers have distributed thousands of packages of fresh food to families in need. During events at the Labor Center, the line of vehicles often spilled out of our parking lot and into West 7th Street.

These were families bearing the brunt of multiple crises facing our country right now: the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic collapse, chronic income inequality and systemic racism. While working Americans worry about eviction notices, job losses and exhausting their paid time off, U.S. billionaires are amassing even more wealth – over $1 trillion, combined, during the pandemic so far.

From Day 1 our federal government’s pandemic response has been bungled. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris campaigned on a promise that we, as one nation, will build back even better than before.

At a time when working people are holding our country together, we have to do better than building back an economy where the rules are still rigged against us. The new administration understands that. The American people, who voted decisively and in record numbers to reject the politics of darkness and division, understand that too.

So what does building back better look like? It starts with direct and significant economic relief for workers and small businesses on Main Street, not Wall Street. Our local governments need aid too, as revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic could force many to make steep cuts to services more essential than ever right now, like public health and public safety. And job losses resulting from cuts to public services would only deepen our economic crisis.

Building back better also means restoring fairness to our economy. It means leveling the playing field and giving working people more power to join together and bargain better wages, benefits and working conditions. Congress can do that by sending the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to President-elect Biden’s desk in the coming months.

The most significant labor legislation in 80 years, the PRO Act would address several weaknesses in our federal labor laws, giving workers more bargaining power on the job. It would put teeth into rules prohibiting employers from retaliating against workers who try to form a union. It would require employers to disclose payments they make to union-busting law firms and consultants brought in to stifle workers’ voices. It would speed up the organizing-election process and establish a mechanism for workers and employers to arrive at a first contract quickly after an organizing drive.

House Democrats passed the PRO Act last February, but it never stood a chance in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. Today, members of Congress introduced the PRO Act again, and President Biden, who has said he wants his to be “the most significant pro-labor, pro-worker administration” ever, has pledged support for the measure. It’s encouraging to see that two congresswomen from our area, Reps. Betty McCollum and Angie Craig, are co-sponsors of the bill.

But the ideals behind the PRO Act – collective bargaining, a voice on the job, the belief that all work has dignity – are not Democratic or Republican. They are American ideals. It’s time for our leaders to put politics aside, to think big and to act boldly. Click here to tell your representatives to make the PRO Act a reality.

Our labor movement stands ready to build back better, together.

– Kera Peterson is president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

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