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Gillibrand pushes for new union protections

James Brown
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Teamsters Local 118 Paul A. Markwitz before a news conference in support of the PRO Act.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited Rochester Monday to tout the PRO Act, saying it will help get the country’s economy back on track. She was joined by union leaders, Rep. Joe Morelle, and Assemblymembers Sarah Clark and Jen Lunsford at the new Teamsters Local 118 building in Brighton.

The PRO in PRO Act stands for Protecting the Right to Organize. It passed in the House of Representatives in March, and Gillibrand said both she and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer are pushing for it in the Senate. She argued that new protections are overdue. 

“When people can join unions and bargain collectively they can even the playing field and create a fair and equitable workplace for everyone,” said Gillibrand. “The best way to get our economy back and to rebuild our middle class is to support our unions and our workers.”

The expansive bill has many new protections but Gillibrand focused on a few including penalizing companies that interfere with the process of union organizing; helping unions collect dues in Right to Work States, where people can opt out of paying them; and clarifying how workers positions are classified in labor laws.

The National Retail Federation called it the worst bill in Congress, criticizing many parts, saying that allowing unions to collect dues when an employee opts-out of joining restricts free choice. The bill allows unions to organize secondary boycotts, potentially against businesses who work with companies while they’re in the midst of union disputes, which the federation said would hurt small businesses.

Credit James Brown / WXXI News
Democrat Rep. Joe Morelle and U.S. Sen. Kirsten GIllibrand.

The NRF also argues that the bill could hurt many of the workers that they’re trying to protect, saying gig workers and other contractors without benefits could lose their jobs if it passes due to the proposed changes to labor laws. The federation said this could potentially kill the gig economy, but Gillibrand strongly disagrees.

“I think that’s B.S. I think that’s false. I don’t think it’s true. I think it's scare tactics,” said Gillibrand. “You don’t have to choose between giving workers fair pay, safe work conditions and a good work environment and growing the economy.”

Gillibrand said she’s hopeful that the bill will be a part of President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill which is being negotiated now.