President Joe Biden’s historic stop today at a picket line outside a GM plant made clear just how much he views the union movement as critical, both to the state of the nation’s economy and his own political future.
Few presidents have so openly touted their pro-labor bonafides. No president has gone to these lengths to show them.
But is there another step he and the Democrats could take?
Some think so. Operatives within the ranks want the party to use the current rush of goodwill being directed toward striking United Auto Workers to reinvigorate momentum behind pro-union legislation. They note that the current moment is unique in modern political history, with leading Republicans, including Donald Trump, offering support for the striking workers. And while they aren’t Pollyanna-ish that this will result in their most ambitious legislative hopes becoming reality, they see opportunity in putting lawmakers on the record.
“Obviously I’d love the PRO Act, but even a vote on a resolution expressing support for UAW workers would be a valuable and elucidating endeavor,” Faiz Shakir, an adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and executive director of the labor-focused nonprofit media organization More Perfect Union, said in reference to the Protecting the Right to Organize Act.
Asked if the Democratic-controlled Senate was cooking anything up, Shakir replied with a shrug emoji and a single word: “Trying.”
To Democrats, Republicans are opportunistically using the UAW strike to align themselves with workers without actually supporting pro-worker policies. And it’s becoming deeply agitating. On Tuesday morning, a researcher at the Democratic-allied think tank, Center for American Progress, blasted out an old video of Trump criticizing the unions in the midst of the Great Recession in 2008 — a sort of “hello folks!” type online missive.
“I think it would be important and powerful to force the Republicans who are posturing as friends of working people, to vote on the single most important piece of pro-worker legislation pending before Congress,” said SETH HARRIS, a former top labor adviser and deputy director of Biden’s National Economic Council. “The truth is they are rabidly anti-union. They do not support workers … So I fully expect that every one of those people talking the talk, would not walk the walk.”
Biden allies also believe GOP lawmakers are trying to use the strike as a way to attack the administration’s electronic vehicle agenda while sidestepping questions about the union’s demands for wage increases, pension benefits and work week restructuring.
A vote could potentially separate the wheat from the chaff. But it would have to be called. And even union advisers aren’t bullish that Democratic leadership would pull that trigger.
That’s because few see Democratic unity on all these fronts.
Biden included the PRO Act, the Democrats’ seminal pro-union legislation, as part of his Build Back Better plan. But the bill, which would implement the greatest expansion of worker’s rights since the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, was ultimately left out of what became the Inflation Reduction Act that Democrats passed on a party-line vote.
The legislation remains fiercely opposed by business groups. And it’s uncertain whether it could clear 50 votes in the Senate, as moderate Arizona Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema remain holdouts, let alone a filibuster-proof 60. Of course, with the House now in GOP control, it stands no chance of passage at all.
For its part, the White House believes the contrast between Biden and Republicans on the labor issue is already quite stark. Officials note that the president has continuously supported the PRO Act, again calling on lawmakerslast month to pass the legislation. The White House has also been pressing lawmakers to include some financial provisions from the PRO Act in a stopgap spending bill, namely increased fees for National Labor Relations Board violations.
The president’s stop on Tuesday was a continuation of a contrast the White House welcomes, with or without an additional vote.
“We’ve had too many presidents trying to crush unions — President Biden is here to make them stronger. He’s proud to be the most pro-union President. He’s proud that his signature legislation is creating good-paying union jobs for thousands of Americans,” said White House spokesperson Robyn Patterson. “And he’ll continue to push Republicans in Congress to pass the Pro-Act and make it easier for workers to organize.”
Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.
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