Labor of love: Gillibrand, Schumer call for passage of ‘Pro Act’ to expand worker rights

New York Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer are fighting to give a voice to working people through the passage of the Right to Organize (Pro) Act.

On July 18, both senators held a press conference in Midtown Manhattan with Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO; Stuart Appelbaum, Executive Vice President of UFCW and President of RWDSU; and Brian Fleurantin, Care Manager in the Health Home Department at Housing Works in Brooklyn to discuss the critical nature of protecting workers’ rights now more than ever. 

Senator Gillibrand says the Pro Act will protect workers rights. Photo by Dean Moses

Although the struggle to strengthen workers’ rights has been decades in the making, the liberties some employers have taken with their staff during the still ongoing pandemic has brought this issue to a boiling point, the lawmakers said.

Gillibrand estimates that 500 billionaires were created during the pandemic, while millions lost their jobs and homes — a prime example of the growing economic gap.

“Income inequality has continued to rise, and the difference between the haves and have nots has grown,” Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand and Schumer are outraged by the financial divide and are pushing for a recovery that amends the inequities that have grown worse over the past 17 months.

 “One of the major reasons the middle class is struggling and in trouble is because the union movement has been attacked left and right by many in the Republican party and many in the business community,” Senate Majority Leader Schumer said on Sunday.

Schumer estimates that if 35% of Americans were union members, the middle class would grow and succeed; but as of 2021 the United States has a union enrollment rate of 11%.

The COVID-19 crisis exposed weaknesses within the financial system as well as the inequalities that exist within the United States. Women, especially women of color, have faced pay disparities that have only increased while major corporations have reaped the benefits of their labor.

With the Pro Act, workers’ rights would be protected and strengthened, allowing them to organize and bargain for fairer wages, better benefits, and an overall improvement in their safety.  While this bill passed in the House earlier this year, it is now set to reach the senate floor.

“I am for the Pro Act, as Majority Leader I am going to do everything I can to see that the Pro Act is passed and signed into law,” Schumer promised.

Gillibrand describes labor leaders as unsung heroes who have kept a watchful eye over their members as major corporations have garnered more money while their employees struggle to pay rent, let alone make ends meet. She shared that the labor movement has always been at the forefront of the country.

The Pro Act is designed to be the legislative framework to protect workers by creating more union jobs—changing the landscape of the working environment. The legislation provides several safeguards such as punishing employers who violate workers’ rights, supporting workers from facing retaliation, creating a private right of action allowing workers to sue when their rights have been denied, support for workers to join a union, and more.

“Our recovery and rebuilding efforts must remember that it is working people who are the true engines of our economy and the heart of communities. So, we have to put workers first,” Gillibrand said.