Union-Backed PRO Act to Get New Life in Infrastructure Package
- Education and Labor panel turning Biden plan into legislation
- Top Democrat wants package to include union-backed PRO Act
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House infrastructure legislation will likely include elements of a landmark overhaul of federal labor law, the influential chair of the House Education and Labor Committee said on Friday.
President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan released this week includes new workplace protections, along with $100 billion to train American workers. The plan also calls on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would boost workers’ ability to organize unions and collectively bargain.
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“We expect the entire PRO Act may well be part of it,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said in an interview.
The House passed the PRO Act (H.R. 842) last month but the measure is unlikely to get enough support in the Senate to overcome the 60-vote filibuster. The White House proposal calls for including the labor law overhaul in an infrastructure package. But it’s unclear which parts of the bill could be passed via reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure that requires a simple majority in the Senate for legislation with budget effects.
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The Education and Labor Committee will write the legislative text for crucial pieces of the Biden plan, which incorporates the framework of several of the committee’s bills. Part of the legislation will include broader workplace protections at companies receiving federal infrastructure funds, Scott said.
“If you’re dealing with federal funds, it’s not unreasonable to expect worker protections. Wages and benefits are part of those,” he said.
Scott also said he would look to make short-term job training eligible for Pell Grants, as part of infrastructure legislation. Only programs 15 weeks or longer qualify for Pell funds. Bipartisan proposals in the House (H.R. 2037) and Senate (S. 864) would add programs as short as eight weeks.
“That would be a critical aspect of job training,” he said. “There’s a good consensus, a bipartisan consensus, that that’s a worthwhile initiative.”
The Pell Grant money would add to other workforce training funds in the plan, which pushes for one to two million slots for registered apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeship Act (H.R. 447), which passed the House in February, aims to add nearly a million new apprenticeships.
“We’d love to move it up,” Scott said of the apprenticeships. “There are more people that want to become apprentices than there are opportunities.”
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Scott also said he would look to add more direct funding for school infrastructure needs to the bill. The White House plan calls for $50 billion in grant funds and $50 billion in bond financing for building upgrades at K-12 schools.
A Scott bill (H.R. 604) would direct $100 billion in grants and $30 in bond authority to high-poverty schools with facilities that pose health risks. He said he would push for more direct grant funding in the infrastructure package, but could be limited to spending levels provided by appropriators.
“When you start dealing with the budget, you have to work within the framework that you’re given,” he said.
The White House is planning to release a second part of its economic recovery plan that deals with childcare and college affordability, among other policies, in the coming weeks. Scott said House leadership would decide if the Biden proposal is drafted as one bill or two.
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