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Gillibrand Visits Labor Leaders In Push For Legislation

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in Albany
Lucas Willard
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in Albany

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is seeking to include legislation to strengthen workers’ rights in a federal infrastructure package. The Democrat gathered with union leaders and local officials in Albany this morning. 

At the Albany Labor Temple, Senator Gillibrand made a pitch for the so-called Protecting the Right to Organize Act.

“The PRO Act is a piece of legislation that is so long overdue but it works to strengthen our local labor union laws and change some of the landscape for working people,” said Gillibrand.

The bill has been kicking around since before Democrats took control of Congress by a slim margin in January. Among its provisions, the legislation would attempt to penalize employers who violate workers’ rights, discourage retaliation, and authorize a private right of action for workers’ rights violations.

It would also support workers’ rights to secondary boycotts, collecting “fair share” fees, work to “modernize” union elections, and facilitate initial collective bargaining agreements.

And it would target “ambiguous wording” the Democrat says allows employers to “misclassify” employees as supervisors and independent contractors.

Gillibrand wants the legislation to be included in ongoing infrastructure negotiations.

“So we know that if we can build up our unions and build up the ability of working people to have a voice in this economy, it will change everything. I also want to make sure that these infrastructure investments that we’re about to make through our Build Back Better Plan actually allows for more union-supported jobs,” said Gillibrand.

Gillibrand is referring to the economic stimulus and infrastructure plan proposed by President Joe Biden that includes the American Rescue Plan, passed earlier this year, the American Jobs Plan infrastructure package, and the American Families Plan to support childcare, paid-leave, and other issues.

With the focus in Washington now on infrastructure, the Democratic Senate remains fractured in its own negotiations toward a scaled-down, $1.2 trillion “hard” infrastructure bill.

Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is standing behind a two-pronged approach, believing a bipartisan infrastructure bill is only achievable if all 50 Democrats also line up behind a bill that can be approved through budget reconciliation, to avoid a filibuster.

New York’s junior Senator agrees with that approach.  

“The purpose of allowing our more moderate senators to negotiate a bipartisan infrastructure bill is to show that they can bring people together and to find common ground on a very small sliver of what needs to be done. Once that is concluded, if it does conclude and if it is finalized, the purpose of that negotiating was to make sure that our entire caucus is with us on a larger bill. I will only support the smaller bill if there is a larger bill, and I will only support a smaller bill if it’s included in the assumptions of the larger bill,” said Gillibrand.

Gillibrand supports ending the Senate filibuster. House Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts' 2nd District, was asked about infrastructure talks on WAMC’s Congressional Corner Tuesday:

“Speaker Pelosi has said we’re not going to send over an infrastructure bill to the Senate until we pass a reconciliation bill that deals with human infrastructure, that helps support families and children and helps deal with issues like housing, which are all major challenges in this country.”

Mark Emanatian, Director of the Capital District Labor Federation, says as the recovery from the pandemic is leaving many behind, passing the PRO Act to strengthen unions and the ability to join a union is all the more important.

“Our economy has received a little bit. People are working. The unemployment around here is lower than the national average. But rents, mortgages, groceries, gasoline, medical, everything is going sky high,” said Emanatian.

At the Albany Labor Temple alongside Gillibrand, Emanatian mentioned a food distribution event in Albany’s South End earlier in the day.

“If we pass the PRO Act and we get everyone that wants to be in a union in a union, poverty will decline and we don’t have to do these damn food distributions that we’ve done,” said Emanatian to applause.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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