The AFL-CIO’s new president said Tuesday the union umbrella organization was open to cutting off funding or even supporting primary challenges for moderate Senate Democrats opposed to jettisoning the filibuster.
Liz Shuler, who took over the leadership of the labor group after longtime President Richard Trumka’s death in August, said workers were “fed up” with the status quo and with elected officials standing in the way of progress. The union chief, in particular, said the filibuster, a Senate rule requiring a supermajority of 60 votes to shut off debate on nonspending legislation, was arcane and in need of an overhaul.
“If they’re not listening, that’s when elections end up having consequences,” Ms. Shuler said at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
“Those are the decisions that are made at the local level, based on how elected officials perform and the way they vote.”
Under current Senate rules, any legislation that falls short of 60 votes can be effectively blocked by a minority filibuster. Eliminating or weakening the filibuster, one of the defining characteristics of the Senate, has become a divisive issue among Democrats.
Ms. Shuler argued the “arcane” rule was standing in the way of pro-worker legislation like the PRO Act. The legislation proposes an overhaul of labor laws, giving unions greater power to organize and collectively bargain with employers.
For instance, the PRO Act would prohibit companies from permanently replacing striking workers. It would also reclassify independent contractors as regular employees, bound by conventional workplace protections.
The bill has garnered the backing of some moderate Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. Despite the support, the bill faces long odds of passage as long as the filibuster remains intact. Mr. Manchin is among a handful of centrist Democrats who have resisted weakening or scrapping the rule, arguing it would destroy the deliberative nature of the Senate and could be used against Democrats when Republicans have the majority.
“It has been said by much wiser people than me that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well, what I’ve seen during my time in Washington is that every party in power will always want to exercise absolute power, absolutely,” Mr. Manchin wrote in an op-ed in June. “The Senate, its processes and rules, have evolved over time to make absolute power difficult while still delivering solutions to the issues facing our country and I believe that’s the Senate’s best quality.”
Ms. Shuler, however, said that if moderate Democrats like Mr. Manchin continue to stand in the way of the legislation by supporting the filibuster, they will face political consequences. Those consequences could range anywhere from cutting off funding for future campaigns to even supporting primary challenges.
“They’re arcane rules, they need to be changed because they’re preventing progress,” she said. “We’re going to keep pushing and holding those senators’ feet to the fire.”