Bernie Sanders to reintroduce the PRO Act into the Senate / by Press Associates

Sen. Bernie Sanders will reintroduce the PRO Act into the Senate this session. | David Becker/AP

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the new chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will reintroduce the Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act. He should use it to really throw the book at corporate crooks.

Sanders will be able to push it through his panel, via a one-vote majority there. If all 49 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents hang together to outvote the chamber’s corporate puppets, also known as Republicans, there’ll actually be a debate on it in the Senate.

Unfortunately, the Senate filibuster rule or the Republican-run and equally ideologically polarized House Education and the Workforce (not “Labor”) Committee will then kill the bill.

So let’s take a leaf out of the Republican playbook and make the PRO Act even tougher on corporate crooks and their aiders and abetters, like union-busters, than it is. You’ve heard of “messaging” bills? Make the PRO Act a real message to that criminal class and to the rest of the country: Abuse, exploit, and break the law against your workers and you’ll pay a huge price.

As you know, the PRO Act, as written by Sanders and then-House E&L Chair Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., plus labor’s legislative representatives, would make gaining union recognition easier and ban many obstacles—such as captive audience meetings which feature illegal intimidation, lies, and threats bosses now use to thwart organizing drives.

Bosses who don’t bargain after workers vote union would face mandatory arbitration. Card-check recognition would be explicitly in federal law. Delay tactics bosses use to postpone elections would go. Joint employers would be jointly responsible for obeying or breaking labor law. Illegally fired workers would be reinstated as soon as they win a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge’s order in their favor, rather than being forced to wait through interminable delays, first at the board and then in the courts.

The PRO Act would empower the NLRB to easily seek court injunctions against flagrant labor law-breakers, such as Starbucks and Walmart. And instead of forking over only net back pay to harmed workers, Sanders proposed firms would face civil fines of $50,000 for a first offense and $100,000 for subsequent ones.

But the new version of the PRO Act we envision is a messaging bill, remember? So let’s really clobber criminal companies and their honchos where it hurts. Here are the additions we’d make:

High fines, maybe on a sliding scale varying by corporate size. The basic idea is “hit ‘em in the wallet, hard.” One way: Add a “0” to the end of those fines above, making them $500,000 for a first offense and $1 million for each following offense. And each instance of labor law-breaking would cover one worker, not dozens. The numbers add up.

Let’s see, the first 101 workers Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz illegally fired for trying to unionize would cost him $500,000 for worker #1 and $1 million each for numbers 2-101. Even Schultz couldn’t just shrug off $100,500,000 in fines. Nor could his board of directors. And if they, and his union-busters, aided, abetted, or condoned the lawbreaking, they’d be fined, too.

Further, if individual Chapter 7 bankrupts can’t avoid paying “debts for certain criminal restitution orders,” according to the legal website Findlaw, outlaw that escape hatch for firms.

Commit the crime, do the time. Corporate pooh-bahs shrug off fines, which are civil penalties. But crime is crime, even—maybe especially—among executive suits in executive suites. Make labor law-breaking, formally called unfair labor practices, a criminal offense.

South Korea does. In December 2019, Samsung Electronics Board Chairman Lee Sang-hoon was sentenced to 18 months in jail “for sabotaging labor union activities” by illegal spying and illegally stalling bargaining. Six other Samsung senior honchos joined their boss in doing perp walks in handcuffs. Nineteen more received suspended sentences in Seoul District Court. A higher court later tossed his sentence, but the others stood.

“We humbly accept that how the company perceived labor unions didn’t meet citizen’s eye-level and society’s expectations,” Samsung said. “We will establish a forward-looking and healthy labor union culture that is based on the spirit of respect for our employees.” A higher court overturned Lee’s conviction, but the other verdicts stood.

Extend criminal penalties. The Protect The Right To Organize Act made more offenses–such as captive audience meetings—labor law-breaking. We’d go even further and make more people, besides line managers, CEOs, company directors, and other top executives, guilty of labor law-breaking. Extend criminal penalties to, to use the Nixonian phrase, currently “unindicted co-conspirators,” also known as union-busters. They’re as guilty as their clients.

No more letting firms off the hook when a contract is reached. This one’s prompted by the story we just posted about the settlement of the 175-day strike which Ingredion forced on its 120 workers, members of Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 100-G. Ingredion also brought in scabs to run the plant.

Undoubtedly as part of bargaining, the local withdrew its complaints of labor law-breaking—bad-faith bargaining, illegal spying, direct dealing with workers, and Ingredion’s refusal to recognize the union as their representative. With the settlement and the union’s withdrawal of its complaints, the NLRB closed the cases. It’s a common practice.

Why? Why should a labor law-breaker get away with what is in essence a plea bargain? Prosecutors use plea bargains to save the costs of criminal trials and obtain convictions. But where the crook is known, the crime is known and the impact on workers is enormous, there should be little plea-bargaining, and preferably none at all.

Ban hiring scabs. In 1938, the Supreme Court legalized letting firms hire “permanent replacements” for economic strikers. Letting firms do so undercuts the clout of workers’ most-powerful weapon of last resort, boss-forced strikes. And firms have no incentives to settle. Indeed, they frequently contract with scabs beforehand, anticipating pushing their workers out.

There’s no constitutional justification that we can see for letting firms hire scabs. End it.

Put all this in the PRO Act and you might get corporate chieftains and their lackeys to really think twice before combating their workers through illegal spying, threats, firing, and worse.

Just imagine everyone from an anti-union Starbucks manager on up to Starbucks CEO Schultz, plus his union-buster, getting hauled off to the hoosegow. Or the whole Walton family trundled off to Leavenworth after forking over $288 million for accumulated labor law-breaking against their workers over the years, as documented by Cornell Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner.

The PRO Act may be a “messaging” bill in this Congress, but what a delicious prospect with additions like these. Let’s use it to really send a message to the criminal corporate class.

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.

People’s World, February 3, 2023,

Maine News: Wabanaki vow to continue larger sovereignty push amid Mills’ opposition to historic bill / Evan Popp

Supporters of tribal sovereignty at the State House last month | Via Wabanaki Alliance 

After opposition from Gov. Janet Mills halted progress on a bill that would reinforce Wabanaki sovereignty and reset a relationship with the state that the tribes argue is fraught with paternalism, Wabanaki leaders say they will continue the push to be treated like other federally recognized tribes but recognize that the fate of their effort stands with governor and legislature. 

A statement from Wabanaki leaders was released Wednesday morning on LD 1626, one of the highest-profile bills of the 2022 legislative session. As Beacon previously reported, the bill would alter the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 to reinforce Wabanaki sovereignty by strengthening tribal communities’ criminal jurisdiction and recognizing the rights of tribes to regulate hunting, fishing and natural resource and land use on their territory. 

“We are going to continue to push for our sovereignty regardless of the outcome on L.D. 1626, and we acknowledge that this process now rests with state government and is out of our hands,” the statement from the tribes said. “Our ancestors made sacrifices so we could be here today, and it is our sacred duty to continue to press for full restoration and recognition of Wabanaki sovereignty. We look forward to continuing this work with all of our partners and allies.” 

Mainers from across the state have lined up en masse behind LD 1626, with over 1,500 people testifying in favor of the bill in February during a public hearing. The measure was then passed by the legislature with strong majorities in both chambers. However, Mills opposes the effort to reinforce Wabanaki sovereignty, making her one of only a few Democratic officials in the state to argue publicly against the measure. 

Likely hoping to avoid a high-profile veto sure to infuriate her base in an election year, Mills applied pressure on the legislature to kill the measure and not send it to her desk. Because it had a fiscal impact on the state budget, LD 1626 needed to be funded by the legislature’s powerful — and some say anti-democratic — budget-making panel, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA). In response to the governor’s concerns with the language of the bill, the legislature declined to include the historic sovereignty measure in the bills funded with leftover budget money. 

There may still be a chance for AFA committee members or lawmakers to take the tribal sovereignty bill off the “Special Appropriations Table” and amend it or fund it by other means when the legislature reconvenes on May 9 to vote on bills vetoed by the governor. However, it’s unclear if that will happen. 

AFA chairs Sen. Cathy Breen (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Teresa Pierce (D-Falmouth) did not respond to a request for comment from Beacon.

On Monday evening, the sponsor of LD 1626, House Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), said she hopes there is still a legislative path to fund her bill. “After all these years, we’re still hoping it still has some life,” she told Beacon

But lawmakers took no further action on the bill during the last regular day of the session Monday, meaning it currently remains with the legislature.

‘More work to be done’

In the statement Wednesday, the tribes made clear that reinforcing their permanent sovereignty as Indigenous Nations — and changing a system that currently treats them as municipality-like entities — is still a top legislative priority. They noted that the Settlement Act must be amended, as it has resulted in “decades of social and economic injustice for the Wabanaki people and has also harmed the surrounding rural communities because our Nations have been prevented from fully accessing federal dollars to support critical social and health services.” 

However, Wabanaki leaders said it’s unlikely that the sovereignty bill has enough votes in the legislature to overcome Mills’ opposition. 

“We are disappointed that the Governor and Attorney General’s office continue to have concerns about the provisions of L.D. 1626,” they said. “But, in talking with the Democratic legislative leaders and looking to the vote count for L.D. 1626, it is clear that there are not enough votes in the 130th Legislature to override a veto. So, while we have made significant and concrete progress in moving the needle, there is still more work to be done.”

Supporters of tribal sovereignty at the State House | Beacon

In their statement, the tribal chiefs asked the wide-ranging coalition in support of LD 1626, along with the lawmakers who have pushed for the bill, to continue working with them on sovereignty efforts. The leaders added that more work to educate people around the state about the benefits of the bill — both for Indigenous nations and surrounding communities — is essential. In particular, such education is needed for “local municipalities and the forest products industry, who continue to misunderstand how tribal sovereignty can be the rising tide that lifts the economies and overall socio-economic wellbeing of our neighbors in rural Maine,” the Wabanaki said.  

The statement also acknowledged that two other bills the tribes have advocated for, LD 906 and LD 585, reached Mills’ desk this session. LD 906, a bill to address the unsafe and deteriorating water system at the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation, was signed by Mills last week. 

LD 585 — which seeks to facilitate better tribal-state relations, implement tax benefits on tribal land and legalize and establish a regulatory framework for sports wagering on Wabanaki territory — has passed the legislature and is currently before Mills for consideration. That bill is a compromise between the governor and the tribes. 

The Wabanaki in their statement noted the importance of both LD 906 and LD 585 and said they appreciated Mills’ support for the measures. However, they also made clear that neither of those bills represents the much-needed sovereignty that would be recognized through LD 1626.  

Mills has not signed LD 585 yet but has said that she will. However, the governor appears to have been playing LD 585 and the larger sovereignty bill off one another in negotiations with the tribes. The Bangor Daily News reported last week that Mills’ top lawyer informed the tribes that LD 585, the governor’s own compromise proposal, would be vetoed if the larger sovereignty bill was advanced. 

Mills seeks to avoid a ‘confrontation’

While the governor has brokered some compromises with the tribes over the years, Mills has opposed the push for recognition of Wabanaki sovereignty since taking office in 2019. In addition, as Maine’s former attorney general, she opposed the Wabanaki in court during some of the legal battles over tribal rights that led to the current stalemate.

While the governor has frequently shown willingness to use her authority to kill progressive priorities, she has appeared desperate to save face during the current fight over tribal sovereignty and avoid a veto of LD 1626 that would likely draw widespread condemnation for refusing to sign what amounts to a basic reinforcement of rights common to tribes around the country. Mills is up for reelection in November. 

“I do not wish to have a confrontation over LD 1626,” the governor wrote in a letter to tribal and legislative leaders last week in which she argued — without citing concrete evidence — that LD 1626 would lead to a wave of litigation and increased divisions in the state. “It would serve no constructive purpose and only inflame emotions on all sides of the discussion, while likely harming the positive and constructive relationship we have worked so hard to build. To help us continue to move forward, I ask that LD 1626 remain with the legislature and that LD 585 be enacted into law while we continue our work together on areas of mutual concern.” 

Earlier this week, however, Republicans tried to force the legislature’s hand and put the onus to make a decision back on Mills by attempting to remove LD 1626 from the Special Appropriations Table in a move that would have allowed the bill to be considered again by lawmakers. However, the Democratic majority in the Maine Senate voted 16-13 to table the bill. Sens. Chloe Maxmin of Lincoln County and Ben Chipman of Cumberland County were the only Democrats to oppose delaying action on the measure. 

“I don’t want it to die on the table, because it’s only $44,000,” Maxmin said of the bill, referring to its fiscal note. 

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at

Maine Beacon, April 27, 2022,

Maine News: Bill to create right to healthy environment in Maine fails amid attacks by GOP lawmakers / by Evan Popp

A bill that would enshrine the right to a clean and healthy environment through an amendment to the Maine Constitution failed a vote in the House on Tuesday, where it needed support from at least two-thirds of lawmakers, after some Republicans made false and misleading claims about the measure. 

The bill, LD 489, also known as the Pine Tree Amendment, was put forward last year by Sen. Chloe Maxmin (D-Lincoln) and carried over to this year’s session. 

As Beacon previously reported, the amendment would add the following to the state’s constitution: “The people of the State have the right to a clean and healthy environment and to the preservation of the natural, cultural and healthful qualities of the environment. The State may not infringe upon these rights. The State shall conserve, protect and maintain the State’s natural resources, including, but not limited to, its air, water, land and ecosystems for the benefit of all the people, including generations yet to come.” 

The proposed policy is part of a movement to secure “green amendments” protecting the right to a healthy environment in states across the country. Pennsylvania and Montana have already had such amendments for decades, and New York voters passed a measure in their state late last year. Along with Maine, green amendment initiatives are active in over a dozen states. 

Supporters of the legislation argue that the amendment would protect the state’s climate now and for decades to come by giving the public a tool to hold governments accountable if they pursue environmentally destructive policies. “It ensures that our environmental and climate laws aren’t subject to political whims,” Maxmin told Beacon in January. 

House debate Tuesday

While the measure passed initial votes in the House and Senate last year, enactment in those chambers requires a two-thirds margin before the bill can be sent to the voters for a final decision on whether to amend the constitution. The measure failed that vote in the House on Tuesday, however. In a mostly party-line decision that saw nearly all Democrats support the measure while almost all Republicans opposed it, the chamber voted 77-59 in favor of the bill but fell short of the two-thirds margin needed. 

During floor speeches, Republicans repeatedly said they support clean air and water but were opposed to a bill that would simply enshrine the right to a healthy environment into the constitution. House Republicans also argued the bill was overly expansive and made a series of claims about potential consequences of the amendment that proponents said mischaracterized the measure. 

“It is so broad that anyone could come up and say that the bike path that we’re building is affecting clean water, that road that we’re building is affecting the air. This is way too broad,” said Rep. Michael Perkins (R-Oakland).

During his speech, Rep. Will Tuell (R-East Machias) claimed that the amendment could be interpreted in a way that would “unintentionally ban the burning of firewood.” 

In addition, Rep. Michael Lemelin (R-Chelsea) attacked the bill as a measure designed to “give activists extreme power.” 

“This is a very, very deceiving, deceptive bill,” he said during his floor speech. “This bill is only to give activists supreme power and I want all my people to know that.” 

As Rep. Bill Pluecker (I-Warren) pointed out during the debate Tuesday, there is nothing in the Pine Tree Amendment that warrants the fears raised by some Republicans. 

“We’re looking into our constitution to provide protections for our citizens, to provide protections for our state,” he said. “This does not target businesses, this does not target bike paths.”

Those arguments by House Republicans were also described as a mischaracterization of the measure by a member of their own party, Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford), a co-sponsor of the Pine Tree Amendment. 

A view of the Penobscot River in Bucksport | Via the National Resources Defense Council

“They were just wholly inaccurate and overblown,” Bennett said of such claims, pointing out that the concerns raised by House Republicans have not occurred in Pennsylvania or Montana, the two states that have had green amendments in their constitution for decades. 

Bennett said the debate in the House and the chamber’s vote on the Pine Tree Amendment were disappointing. 

“I look at the amendment first and foremost as a check on governmental power and a clear expression of the rights of individual citizens,” he said. “The narrative seemed to change with some to think that it was somehow threatening to individual rights and supportive of governmental overreach, and that’s the exact reverse of the intent of the amendment and certainly of the way I would see it working.” 

The senator added that qualms expressed by Governor Janet Mills’ administration also didn’t help generate support for the amendment. Bennett said the Maine Department of Transportation sent an email to lawmakers earlier this year raising concerns about the measure, which he argued bolstered opposition to the bill.

A spokesperson for the Maine DOT confirmed that the department sent an email on Jan. 25 to members of the legislature’s Transportation Committee expressing concerns about the Pine Tree Amendment, including that the language of the bill was too broad and could be used to bring court challenges aimed at halting department infrastructure projects.

“While we are not in support of LD 489, MaineDOT supports a healthy natural environment, and our employees and contracting partners design and build infrastructure to support that goal,” department spokesperson Paul Merrill said in an email to Beacon on Wednesday.

Future of Pine Tree Amendment

Maxmin, the sponsor of the Pine Tree Amendment, agreed that the vote in the House on Tuesday was disappointing. She added that arguments on the House floor that the bill catered to activists and would ban firewood burning and curb bike path construction were “profoundly inaccurate.” Such rhetoric was particularly frustrating, she said, as supporters of the bill made repeated efforts to educate GOP legislators about the bill and the need to protect environmental rights in the constitution. 

“I had talked to many of those folks personally and they told me they would really look at it and so I was disappointed because the facts were wrong that were said on the floor and there was so much opportunity for folks to really have the chance to learn about it,” Maxmin said. 

The bill will next move to the Senate, where Bennett said it could either go to the Appropriations Table because it has a fiscal note or potentially simply be moved to the full Senate since the allocation for the bill is only related to the ballot initiative triggered if the measure passes. 

Either way, the initiative would need two-thirds support in the Senate. Bennett said that margin is possible, but added that the vote will likely be close. If it’s approved by a two-thirds margin in the Senate, he said the measure would go back to the House. However, it would then likely run into the same opposition it faced Tuesday. 

Maxmin said it’s unlikely the bill will be approved by lawmakers this year. However, she emphasized that the grassroots campaign in support of the Pine Tree Amendment — which has been spearheaded by constituents of her Lincoln County district — will endure. 

“Whenever I go out somewhere I see a Pine Tree Amendment sign on someone’s lawn. They’ve done such incredible work getting businesses and organizations and citizens to stand up and get behind the Pine Tree Amendment and that’s not going to die,” she said. “That’s going to keep going.” 

Photo: Sen. Chloe Maxmin at the State House with supporters of the Pine Tree Amendment | Via Facebook

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at

Beacon, April 6, 2022,