House approves pro-union bill despite dim Senate odds

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference ahead of the vote on the Democrat's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 9, 2021, as Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. and Budget Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., look on. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference ahead of the vote on the Democrat's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 9, 2021, as Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. and Budget Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., look on. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – The Democratic-led House on Tuesday approved legislation that would invigorate workers' unions, following decades of court defeats and legislative setbacks that have kneecapped the labor movement's once formidable ability to organize.

The measure, which union leaders and labor allies have presented as a cure for decades of working-class wage stagnation, was approved on a mostly party-line 225-206 vote. But it faces an all-but-certain Republican blockade in a narrowly divided Senate and is unlikely to become law.

In an angry floor speech, Rep. Tim Ryan excoriated Republicans, most of whom opposed the measure, mocking them for rejecting a bill to “help the damn workers.”

“Heaven forbid we tilt the balance that has been going in the wrong direction for 50 years,” Ryan, D-Ohio, said, his voice rising. “We talk about pensions, you complain. We talk about the minimum wage increase, you complain. We talk about giving them the right to organize, you complain. But if we were passing a tax cut here, you’d be all getting in line to vote ‘yes.’”

The Democratic push comes in the midst of a massive organizing drive in the historically labor-resistant South, which offers a crucial test for a labor movement that is showing new signs of life after decades of atrophy.

President Joe Biden, who previously pledged to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen," recently gave union organizers at a 6,000-worker Amazon facility near Birmingham, Alabama, his tacit endorsement in an unprecedented sign of support. He also backs the Democratic bill.

Democrats are looking to fortify bonds with rank-and-file union members, a key constituency that has been critical for getting out the vote. Some drifted toward the GOP under former President Donald Trump, despite the Republican Party’s long antipathy toward unions — attracted to Trump's “America First” agenda and his hostile stance toward global trade.

While Republicans have welcomed blue-collar workers drawn to the party by conservative cultural issues, many draw the line at measures that would expand the power of labor and could benefit their economic bottom line.