- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2021

The nation’s largest socialist advocacy group is taking credit for pressuring Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia into backing the PRO Act — wide-reaching legislation that strengthens organized labor and overturns individual states’ right-to-work laws.

The Democratic Socialists of America claims it was behind Mr. Manchin’s decision to back the PRO Act. For months, the organization was running a coordinated outreach campaign on both Capitol Hill and in West Virginia to mobilize not only the senator but his constituents behind the bill. 

Such efforts, the group says, paid off earlier this week when Mr. Manchin, a self-described conservative Democrat, surprised many by announcing he would co-sponsor the legislation. 

“We flipped Joe Manchin,” the DSA said in response. “DSA pressure worked. Our [500,000] phone calls pushed Senator Manchin to co-sponsor the PRO-Act.” 

Mr. Manchin’s support brings the PRO Act, billed as the most ambitious change to U.S. labor laws since the New Deal era of the 1930s, one step closer to passage.

If enacted, the bill would make it easier for workers to strike and unionize. The PRO Act expands the definition of employee to include supervisors and independent contractors, meaning organized labor would have a wider pool for recruiting. It also bans employers from permanently replacing workers on strike. 

The PRO Act’s most controversial provision, however, has to deal with right-to-work laws, which it would overturn in the 27 states that have passed them. One such state is Mr. Manchin’s West Virginia, which passed right-to-work legislation in 2016. 

Neither the DSA nor Mr. Manchin’s office responded to requests for comment.

When announcing his support for the PRO Act this week, the senator did not mention the DSA, instead saying that his decision came after consulting with West Virginia labor leaders and concluding that something was needed to “level the playing field and protect workers’ rights.”

“Nearly half of new unions fail to reach a contract within their first year because their employers won’t even come to the table,” the senator said. “That is plain wrong.”

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a business organization working to oppose the PRO Act, pushed back on Mr. Manchin’s characterization of the bill. Kristen Swearingen, the group’s chair, said the bill “kills West Virginia businesses and jobs” and the senator should rethink his support.

“Unfortunately, it appears Sen. Manchin was persuaded by a deceptive campaign run by a national socialist organization, which is unlikely to sit well with his constituents who reject their far-left agenda,” Ms. Swearingen said.

Despite Mr. Manchin’s support, the PRO Act still faces long odds within the 50-50 Senate. The bill has yet to receive the backing of every member of the Democratic caucus, with Sen. Krysten Sinema of Arizona most notably still undecided. 

Even if the bill were to receive Ms. Sinema’s support, it is unlikely to hit the 60-vote threshold required to overcome a Senate filibuster.

Regardless of the realities, the DSA is redoubling its efforts to secure passage.

The DSA’s emergence as a lobbying force behind progressive legislation underscores how far the political environment has shifted. As recently as 2018, the group was considered a fringe organization on the far-left. 

That year, the DSA made national headlines in 2018 when several of its members launched insurgency campaigns against well-known Democrats in state and congressional primaries. 

Several of those candidates proved successful, including current Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, in particular, drew notice for defeating the sitting chairman of the House Democratic caucus. 

Since then the DSA’s profile has risen and its membership has grown to 66,000 nationwide. In 2020, it succeeded in doubling its contingent in Congress with the election of Democratic Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri and Jamaal Bowman of New York.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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