Business groups urge Kelly, Sinema to oppose pro-union PRO Act
Business groups publicly called on Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema to oppose a sweeping piece of pro-organized labor legislation that would wipe out Arizona's "right-to-work" law that prohibits mandatory union membership.
At a press conference at the office of the Arizona chapter of the Associated General Contractors near the state Capitol on Monday, leaders of several business groups warned that the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — or PRO Act, as it's more commonly known — would undermine Arizona's recovery from the economic slump it faced last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, undermine the "gig economy," jeopardize secret ballots in union organization votes, give unions access to confidential employee information and strip Arizonans of their right not to join a union.
The bill would allow unions to override right-to-work laws and collect union dues from non-members who still benefit from collective bargaining. It would also prohibit company-sponsored meetings to urge employees against unionizing, define most independent contractors as employees, protect employees who are attempting to unionize from being fired and allow unions to engage in secondary strikes in support of other striking workers, among other provisions.
"We want to thank and tell Senator Sinema and Senator Kelly that we appreciate them for not signing on as co-sponsors to the PRO Act, because if they were to change their opinions, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer will put this up for a vote," said Danny Seiden, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Kelly and Sinema are two of only three Senate Democrats, along with Virginia's Mark Warner, who haven't co-sponsored the bill or thrown their public support behind it. Kelly last month told the Huffington Post that he opposes the independent contractor provision, but that he supports the "overall goals" of the legislation.
Sinema is widely known as a holdout on the Democratic side and hasn't supported the PRO Act, but spokesman Pablo Sierra-Carmona indicated that she hasn't made up her mind, and that she won't do so unless and until it comes up for a vote in the Senate.
"[I]t is not clear if or when the PRO Act may come up for a vote in the Senate. If it does, Kyrsten will take a close look at the legislation and listen to Arizona workers, employers, and community leaders, and — as always — vote based on what's right for Arizona," Sierra-Carmona said in an emailed statement.
Arizona is one of 27 right-to-work states. Seiden said Arizona's labor laws, which have included a right-to-work provision since 1946, give it a competitive advantage over other states, as evidenced by its recovery from the pandemic-inducted slump. He noted that Arizona hit a monthly record of 16,000 new jobs created in July, and has set new revenue collection records, despite the economic hit the state took in 2020.
Michelle Ahlmer, executive director of the Arizona Retailers Association, echoed that sentiment, saying the PRO Act could jeopardize the economic gains the state has made as it recovers from the pandemic.
"As we climb out from the last 18 months, we need every tool to get back on our feet," Ahlmer said.
Supporters tout the PRO Act as a game-changer that would level the playing field between employees and employers, strengthen workers' rights and increase wages.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the PRO Act in March, but its prospects are dim in the Senate, where Democrats, even if they have the votes to pass the bill, don't have enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster. That has led some Democrats to advocate passing parts of the bill through reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure that can be used to bypass the 60-vote threshold for breaking a filibuster and passing budget-related measures with a simple majority.
While Kelly has privately advocated for reforming the filibuster to "to make the (Senate) more functional," Sinema has doggedly defended the rule that requires any legislation to have the backing of 60 senators before it can receive a formal vote.
Most provisions of the PRO Act, such as prohibiting right-to-work laws, wouldn't be subject to reconciliation because they're unrelated to spending and revenue, but the Senate could use the process to pass other parts, such as dramatic increases in monetary penalties for employers that engage in illegal union-busting activities.
Kelly told the Huffington Post that he's open to using reconciliation for parts of the PRO Act, saying, "Depending on how it's done, I'm not necessarily opposed to that."
Sierra-Carmona said Sinema won't opine on the possibility of reconciliation until she sees legislation that won't be completed until next month, at the earliest.
The Arizona business groups urged Kelly and Sinema not to support using reconciliation to pass what Seiden called a "watered-down but just-as-damaging big labor wish list."
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.