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Local union members, leaders hold rally, thank Sens. Peters, Stabenow for support of PRO Act

The Upper Peninsula Regional Labor Federation hold a rally in Marquette Monday night to thank U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Hills, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, for their cosponsorships of Protecting the Right to Organize Act. The Democrat-backed bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 9, but organizers say it’ll be much more difficult to pass in the Senate. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

MARQUETTE — Local union members and leaders with the Upper Peninsula Regional Labor Federation hosted a rally in Marquette Monday night thanking U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Hills, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, for their support of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act.

UPRLF was joined by union affiliates and allied organizations at Peters’ Marquette office to discuss why the PRO Act is essential to “making America’s economy work for working people.”

The PRO Act, formally known as Senate Bill 420, “expands various labor protections related to employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace.” It was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 24.

The bill is heavily backed by Democrats, with Peters and Stabenow being two of 44 Democratic cosponsors. Two more independents are also consponsors.

The House version of the bill, H.R. 842, is cosponsored by 210 Democrats and three Republicans. It was passed on March 9 by a vote of 225-206. However, organizers say it’ll be more of a challenge to pass in the Senate.

“Unfortunately, that’s going to be tough,” said Michael Thibault, chair of the UPRLF. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work, activities like this where other senators realize that people are just fed up with not being able to go out and organize a union when they want to.”

Demonstrators lined up in front of Peters’ office on Washington Street to show their support for the proposed bill. While that message of support was clearly relayed to passers-by, the primary purpose of the rally was to show appreciation to Peters and Stabenow.

“We’re here thanking our two senators for supporting the PRO Act, which is some of the strongest legislation that’s being proposed since the Great Depression to protect workers and workers’ rights,” Thibault said. “They both support it, are on record in supporting it and we’re here just to say thank you.”

UPRLF states that the country’s labor laws are “outdated” and “no longer effective at ensuring freedom to make our voices heard.”

“The PRO Act would go a long ways to protecting workers’ rights, to not be intimidated if they want to organize a union, and get a first contract,” Thibault said. “It’ll help eliminate some of the government restrictions that are in place as far as organizing in the workplace. It’ll also hopefully stifle owners’ and employers’ tactics of stalling, of intimidation, even sometimes when the vote is taken and a win is in hand, to get a first contract, there’s all kind of tactics that are used to stall and discourage people.

“You hear a lot nowadays about employers not being able to find enough workers. We happen to think that it has a lot to do with people not being organized into a union and not having a reasonable wage to support themselves, and actually workers are getting tired of that and having to put up with that. This is a strong union region, I think some other industries, like the hospitality industry for instance, it’s hard to pick up workers and pay them $10 an hour when they know there’s better jobs out there. They just go out and seek a better job.”

According to UPRLF, the bill, if passed, would hold corporations accountable for union-busting, protect workers’ rights to form and join unions freely and fairly, repeal union-busting “right to work” laws that lower wages and reduce benefits, ensure workers can reach a first contract quickly after a union is recognized, and end employers’ practice of punishing striking workers by hiring permanent replacements.

Many supporters were on hand, including those from the Northern Michigan University American Association of University Professors Faculty Union, United Steelworkers, and Ishpeming city councilmember Jason Chapman.

George LaBlonde, regional coordinator for Peters’ Marquette office, was also present to speak on behalf of the senator.

“We are very glad to see the U.P. Regional Labor Federation through the Michigan AFL-CIO coming outside of our office to thank Sen. Peters for his efforts on introducing the PRO Act, for his cosponsorship of the PRO Act, and for his support throughout the passing process in Congress,” he said. “The senator is the son of an NEA (National Education Association) teacher and an SEIU (Service Employees International Union) steward and the son-in-law of a UAW (United Auto Workers) retiree, so the importance of workers’ rights to ban together and collectively bargain is not lost on the senator, and that’s one of the reasons he supported this bill, because the PRO Act finally puts workers above corporations and will ensure that the workers have a right to collectively bargain and have a chance to start a union and maintain their unions, because unions are vital to the economy, workers and families. The average pay for a union worker is 19% higher than those of comparable occupation education and experience, but in non-union workplaces.

“Labor unions are essential for fighting growing income inequality by raising workers’ wages, and the senator is proud to support a bill that will continue to make sure that workers have those rights to assemble and collectively bargain.”

The House and Senate bills can be viewed at bit.ly/3eAmtAT or bit.ly/2UYprbg.

For more information on the Upper Peninsula Regional Labor Federation, visit www.uplabor.com.

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