line of people holding signs related to PRO Act rally PRO Act supporters outside of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's office in Phoenix on July 23, 2021
(Photo by Jessica Swarner)

Arizona’s Sinema and Kelly are two of just three Democrat senators who haven’t cosponsored the labor rights legislation. 

Arizona has been a “right-to-work” state since 1946. 

The Legislature passed a bill that year preventing Arizona labor unions from requiring workers who benefit from a unionized workplace to contribute to the costs of representation.  

This can lead to unfairness in the workplace, said Dawn Schumann, political coordinator and lobbyist for the Teamsters union in Arizona. Workers who do not pay dues to a union still benefit when a union in their workplace negotiates with the employer and improves working conditions for all employees, she told The Copper Courier. 

“You don’t go to work and expect someone else to do your job and then get paid for a job you didn’t do, and essentially, that’s what happens,” Schumann said. 

A federal labor rights bill called the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would fix this loophole by essentially overturning state’s right-to-work laws. 

What Right-to-Work Laws Mean for Workers

Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO and co-chair of the Democracy Initiative, said during a PRO Act rally in Phoenix last month that “right-to-work” is a misnomer. 

“There’s nothing called a ‘right-to-work’ state,” Gebre told The Copper Courier. “It’s a right-to-work-for-less state, a right-to-work-without-rights state, and the PRO Act will fix that.”

A Bloomberg Law analysis found that in 2018, union membership rates, successful union elections, and strike activity were lower in right-to-work states compared to states without those laws on the books. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, union members made up 5.3% of Arizona’s wage and salary workers in 2020, compared to the national average of 10.8%. 

The Bloomberg Law analysis did find that union workers in right-to-work states earned more compared to their non-union counterparts than they did in non-right-to-work states. However, both groups are paid less overall in right-to-work states—wages are 3.1% lower in states with restrictive labor union laws, according to a 2015 Economic Policy Institute report

“This translates into RTW [right-to-work] being associated with $1,558 lower annual wages for a typical full-time, full-year worker,” the report reads. 

Getting Senators on Board

The Democratic-majority US House passed the PRO Act in March, but it has stalled in the evenly split Senate. 

Many bills get stuck in the Senate due to its filibuster rule, which allows the minority party to delay and try to block legislation. Sixty votes are needed to override a filibuster and bring a bill to a vote, meaning it must have bipartisan support. 

To get the PRO Act passed, Gebre said, it’s time to end this rule. 

“We’re demanding that the Senate doesn’t become an obstacle for progress, and the Jim Crow-era, white-supremacist filibuster’s got to go.” 

RELATED: 10 Activists Arrested After Protesting Outside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Office to End Filibuster

But even if it were solely up to the Democrats to pass the PRO Act, it’s not clear all 50 would vote for it. Schumann with the Teamsters said it’s been frustrating to see Arizona’s senators not cosponsor the bill. 

“Why two senators who are pro-union … [who] said that they would fight for labor and unions in their election cycle, have not come to the plate to support the PRO Act baffles me,” Schumann said. 

Sinema and Kelly are two of just three Democrats who haven’t cosponsored the legislation

Kelly has said he supports the legislation’s goals but that he has concerns with how it handles the classification of workers and gives independent contractors bargaining rights. 

Sinema’s spokesperson Pablo Sierra-Carmona told The Copper Courier it’s not clear yet if the PRO Act will come up for a vote in the Senate, but if it does, “Kyrsten will take a close look at the legislation and listen to Arizona workers, employers, and community leaders, and—as always—vote based on what’s right for Arizona.”

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