Week Ending January 31, 2020

House of Representatives gets ready to pass the PRO Act to strengthen Workers' Rights

  • House to Vote on Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act
  • House Democrats Unveil $760 Billion Infrastructure Framework
  • Paid Leave Gaining Support
  • Federal Budget and Economic Outlook

Call your Representative today at 1-877-682-6145.
Ask them to vote for the PRO Act, to strengthen Workers’ Rights. 

On Thursday, Feb. 6, the House is scheduled to vote on the “Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” (H.R. 2474), which was introduced by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.). For decades, abusive employers have been able to violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) with relative impunity, making it more difficult for workers to organize and negotiate for fair pay, benefits and working conditions. The “PRO Act” levels the playing field by: 

  • Strengthening Workers Rights: The PRO Act builds upon collective bargaining rights for private sector workers by expanding coverage to more employees. It increases penalties for violations of workers’ rights, strengthens support for workers who suffer retaliation, prohibits employers from interfering in union elections and requires dispute resolution to improve the ability of unions to secure contracts. It also allows employers and unions to include fair-share language in contracts.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME strongly supports the passage of the PRO Act. AFSCME members believe that all workers, both private and public sector workers, deserve the right to organize and bargain collectively to improve their working conditions. We continue to push for a committee markup of the “Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act” (H.R. 3463), which was introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) This bipartisan bill, which would establish a minimum nationwide standard of collective bargaining rights that states must provide public service workers, currently has 227 co-sponsors.

House Democrats Unveil $760 Billion Infrastructure Framework

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) laid out a framework to upgrade highways, rail, and transit systems, airports, ports and harbors, wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, brownfields, and broadband over the next five years.

With $760 billion in new investments, the framework is the most comprehensive infrastructure plan since the Obama American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enacted in the wake of the Great Recession. It also goes beyond the surface transportation renewal legislation passed by the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee last summer, which totaled $287 billion:

  • Highways Funded: $329 billion is provided for highway projects, favoring efforts that promote resiliency, or the ability of infrastructure to withstand catastrophic weather.
  • Transit, Rail, Broadband and Clean Water: $105 billion is provided for transit, $55 billion for rail, $86 billion for broadband, and $50.5 billion for clean water. 

What You Need to Know: Federal funding programs for highway, transit, water and other infrastructure projects expire in September 2020, putting pressure on Congress to enact legislation this year. While the framework laid out this week doesn’t include proposals to pay for the legislation, lawmakers have rightly become more skeptical of alternative financing schemes such as public-private partnerships (P3s) that have been considered in the past. What is clearly needed is a new, large investment to improve infrastructure that all Americans utilize. Such an investment would also create millions of jobs.

Paid Leave Gaining Support

Paid leave legislation is gaining attention in Congress. Members of the House Way and Means Committee held a hearing on various paid leave proposals. The panel of witnesses talked about the importance of allowing workers and their families to care for themselves, a new child or a seriously ill family member without sacrificing their paychecks. 

  • Economic Impact: Paid leave is an economic necessity and builds economic security. It allows workers to keep their job, support their families and stay engaged in the workforce. But fewer than 18% of workers have access to it through their employers; just shy of 40% have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance. But polling suggests that 84% of Americans support having a federal paid leave program and view it as a larger health care issue.
  • Increasing State Action: At least nine states and the District of Columbia have passed measures to provide some form of paid leave.

What You Need to Know: Almost all working people will experience a caregiving need at some point in their lives, but millions are excluded from any form of paid leave benefit.

Federal Budget and Economic Outlook

The House Committee on the Budget held a hearing on the Congressional Budget Office’s budget and economic outlook. CBO Director Phillip Swagel shared the annual 10-year fiscal outlook, which revealed that the U.S. federal budget deficit has reached $1 trillion this fiscal year and will average $1.3 trillion per year between 2021 and 2030. Measured as a percentage of economic output, the deficit is projected to go from 4.6% of GDP this year to 5.4% in 2030. But it’s not just about deficits. Swagel said that the nation will suffer from the widening gap between spending and revenues unless Congress makes “significant changes to tax and spending policies.” 

  • Spending and Revenue Gap: CBO projected that economic output would grow 2.2% this year, “driving continued job creation and a historically low unemployment rate.” Revenues are on track to increase from 16.4% of GDP this year to 18% in a decade. At the same time, federal spending is also projected to rise, driven by increased spending for mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare. An aging population and ballooning health care costs will continue to drive federal spending well beyond 2030. The director did point out that the budget gap expanded after the Trump administration and Congress enacted tax cuts in 2017 and a two-year budget deal. 

What You Need to Know: The Congressional Budget Office is nonpartisan and does not provide policy solutions, so the hearing did not include ways to invest in certain programs to strengthen our economy. The report also did not include information on how income inequality and disparities affect spending and revenue. AFSCME will continue to push for domestic investments, not spending cuts, in programs that will help all Americans.

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