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Democrats reintroduce labor rights regulation whereas Covid places office security first

Rep Bobby Scott, D-Va., Speaks about childcare bills during a press conference on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 at the Capitol Visitor Center.

Tom Williams | CQ Appeal, Inc. | Getty Images

Democrats re-enact sweeping labor rights law Thursday, touted as a means of creating safe jobs and increasing worker benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

The party tabled the PRO Act, a measure to promote trade union organization that the House passed last year. The legislation would:

Enable the National Labor Relations Board to impose fines on employers who violate workers' rights. Give workers more powers to take part in strikes. Weaken the so-called right to work. Offer worker protection to certain independent contractors

Republican lawmakers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have argued that the plan would hinder the economy, making it doubtful that Democrats will win the 10 GOP votes needed to get them through the Senate. Even so, the bill underscores the Democrats' drive to strengthen unions after years of eroding membership.

Bobby Scott, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, D-Va., Said the bill would help key workers secure higher wages and paid vacation if the virus spreads.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that Congress urgently needs to protect and strengthen workers' rights," he said in a statement on Thursday. "Last year workers across the country were forced to work in unsafe conditions because they were not paid enough, because they were unable to stand together and negotiate with their employer."

The reintroduction of the law underscores the party's renewed focus on using unified control of Congress and the White House to strengthen labor rights. President Joe Biden, who said during his campaign that "unions built the middle class", took early steps to promote workers' right to organize.

On his first day in office, Biden fired Peter Robb, General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, whose actions union leaders had criticized. He also elected a union leader in the Boston Mayor, Marty Walsh, as his labor secretary.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held the Walsh confirmation hearing Thursday morning.

The PRO Act would enable the NLRB. This would not only allow the independent agency to impose penalties on companies or even company managers who breach labor law, but also ask the NLRB to reinstate workers while their complaint against an employer is heard.

This would limit the power of Republican-backed laws across the country that prevent workers from joining a union or paying dues as a condition of employment. Attempts are also being made to reduce the use of independent contractor classification by companies like Uber. The question of whether so-called gig workers should be classified as employees has become a point of contention in California.

When the Democrats passed the law in 2019, Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of employment policy Glenn Spencer said it was "bad for workers, employers and the economy."

Republican leaders targeted unions in the early days of the Biden administration. Teachers, one of the most heavily unionized professions, have refused to return to teaching in person in some cities because of concerns about contracting the virus.

On Wednesday, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that schools can safely reopen even if teachers do not receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Senate Minority Chairman Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Criticized what he called "the whims of powerful public sector unions" when he called for students to return to school on Wednesday.

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