GOP Congresswoman Lori Chavez-DeRemer backs pro-union ‘messaging bill’ that would dump Janus


Oregon Congresswoman Lori Chavez DeRemer is continuing to break the mold with pro-union stances as a Republican officeholder. On May 16, she joined four other Republicans and 80 Democrats in co-sponsoring legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to guarantee some basic union rights for public sector workers and overturn the Supreme Court’s anti-union Janus vs AFSCME decision. Since then one other Republican and 28 more Democrats have signed on as cosponsors.

The bill, known as the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, was introduced as H.R. 8426. It’s considered to have zero chance of passage while Republicans continue to hold the majority in the House. But then it didn’t have much luck when Democrats were in charge either: A 2019 version had 229 co-sponsors and didn’t even get a hearing in what was then called the House Education and Labor Committee. That suggests that the measure is what’s known as a “messaging bill.” That’s a bill that a sponsor introduces knowing it has no chance of becoming law; instead it’s meant as a statement to a constituency to show lawmakers are on their side. 

Sponsors shared the text for the bill along with their May 16 press announcement, but that text had not been made available on Congressional web site a month later. 

The House version of the bill is also co-sponsored by Oregon Democrats Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, and Val Hoyle. Companion legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) S. 4363 has 32 cosponsors, including Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon and Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington. 

Currently there is no federal law protecting the right of public sector workers to join a union and bargain collectively over wages, benefits, and working conditions. Some states have laws that recognize those rights, but others don’t. As outlined by its chief sponsor, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.), H.R. 8426 would direct the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) to determine whether states provide public employees basic union rights, and if they don’t, the agency could go to federal court to compel them to do so. One of the included rights would be the right, when a majority of workers approve, to require all represented workers to share in the costs of a union; that’s what the Supreme Court struck down in its 2018 Janus decision. H.R. 8426 would also ban strikes by law enforcement and emergency services workers.


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