Sen. Joe Manchin, widely regarded as a crucial swing vote in the narrowly Democratic Senate, moved a sweeping pro-union law one step closer to enactment Monday by declaring that he would become a co-sponsor.
The measure is the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which passed the Democratic House in March by 225-206, with one Democrat in opposition and five Republicans in support. It's also endorsed by President Biden.
The PRO Act would be the most important law protecting worker rights since the original National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
Among other features, it would overturn numerous provisions of the most important anti-union law in American history, the Taft-Hartley Act, which was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress over Harry Truman's veto in 1947.
Manchin's announcement, which came at an event sponsored by the United Mine Workers of America, doesn't ensure passage of the PRO Act by any means.
Several of his fellow Democrats haven't yet signed on to the bill, including Mark Warner of Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona. That means the measure isn't assured of a simple majority vote; a filibuster by Republicans would drive the last nail into its coffin. But Manchin's support could place pressure on the Democratic holdouts to fall into line.
Nor is Manchin's support all that much of a surprise. He has long been an ally of the mine workers union, which anointed him as an honorary member last year. But he hadn't explicitly endorsed the PRO Act until now.
That gives us an opportunity to examine the history of federal labor law and how it has allowed employers to run roughshod over unionization drives during the last three-quarters of a century.
That's a period that has seen a historic decline in union membership in the private sector from an estimated 36% in 1945 to 6.3% in 2020 (the government didn't start keeping comparable statistics until 1983). So it's reasonable to conclude that federal law played an important role in the decline.
Let's start by describing the PRO Act.