Bloomington city council to ask U.S. Senators to back legislation in support of labor unions

A resolution that will likely appear on the Bloomington city council’s agenda for July 21 would call for passage of the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021.

The image links to US Congress website entry for the PRO Act of 2021.

The resolution would, if approved, be forwarded to Indiana’s congressional delegation, including its two senators, Mike Braun and Todd Young.

That’s one of the topics that was addressed by the city council at its work session held last Friday.

Susan Sandberg, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said on Friday about the council’s support of the bill now pending in front of the U.S. Senate, “I feel it is an important component to affordability in this community…to make sure that wages are competitive, and we are respecting our labor force.”

The resolution’s other co-sponsor, Dave Rollo, did not attend Friday’s work session. Other councilmembers could ask to be added as co-sponsors. Isabel Piedmont-Smith said on Friday she would like to be added as a co-sponsor.

The PRO Act would, among other things, weaken the “right-to-work” laws of many states, including Indiana’s, which was enacted in 2012.

Under the PRO Act, according to the bill’s synopsis, collective bargaining agreements could require all employees represented by the bargaining unit to contribute fees to the union for the cost of such representation, even if there’s a state law prohibiting that.

The PRO Act was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in March on a 225–206 vote. It has been sent to the Senate for consideration. It’s not expected by many analysts to win approval by the Senate, even though the Senate is controlled by Democrats.

That’s because the control of the Senate by Democrats is not numerically strong enough to overcome a Republican filibuster.

The PRO Act of 2021 could wind up with a similar trajectory to the Employee Free Choice Act, which was considered in the mid-2000s, but never enacted by the U.S. Congress. The Employee Free Choice Act would have amended the National Labor Relations Act to create a system to allow employees to form, join, or assist unions.

In 2007, Bloomington’s city council passed a resolution in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, sponsored by Rollo and then-councilmember Andy Ruff.  The two Republican members serving on the city council at the time, David Sabbagh and Brad Wisler, abstained from the vote. The other five councilmembers of that era were Chris Sturbaum, Mike Diekhoff, Steve Volan, Susan Sandberg, and Timothy Mayer.

On Friday, Sandberg alluded to the 2007 resolution brought forward by Rollo and Ruff, adding, “We clearly have a long history in Bloomington of being in support of labor.”

At Friday’s work session, councilmembers heard from Jerry Sutherlin and Jackie Yenna, who are with the Southern Indiana Area Labor Federation.

Yenna said, “[The PRO Act] will go a long ways to fighting the injustices that workers have faced over the years as they try to organize.” He added, “And it will go a long way in fighting the so-called right-to-work laws that so many states are passing.”

Sutherlin said, “We’re looking at a lot of changes within our society, with climate change, etcetera. And to overcome a lot of this is going to require that people are economically able to get by, and that we can all work together to overcome these challenges.”

Sutherlin added, “And I think this [bill] is going to go a long ways towards that. I mean, this is just one step.”

Sandberg credited Sutherlin with bringing the issue to the council’s attention. Sutherlin noted that an initial draft of the resolution was crafted the Bloomington Democratic Socialists of America, which then approached the Southern Indiana Area Labor Federation to work on the topic.

At Friday’s work session, city council president Jim Sims asked some questions from his perspective of having worked in management, not in a position covered by collective bargaining, for most of his three-decade career at Indiana University. Sims said he was supportive of the resolution.

Councilmember Ron Smith said on Friday that when the resolution is considered for a vote by the council he hopes to hear some specific detail on how the PRO Act would impact workers—how it might help with their wages and benefits. The council is expected to hear and vote on the resolution at its July 21 meeting.

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