Texas unions roast Henry Cuellar, stump for PRO Act at San Antonio rally

by | Feb 18, 2022 | Labor, Politics

Major Texas unions, labor and progressive groups gathered in San Antonio on Friday to make noise for the Protecting the Right to Organize Act and to deride its number one opponent in the U.S. House, Rep. Henry Cuellar.

“Let’s talk about why we’re here, Representative Henry Cuellar,” Geronimo Guerra, president of the Communication Workers of America Local 6143 told unions gathered outside the labor group’s headquarters. “[Cuellar] has spent time and time again in Congress voting against the interests of the working people. We are here today to remind you, when we said we wouldn’t forget the constant insults to working families in the district, we meant it.”

“The PRO Act is a once-a-generation piece of legislation that would transform the rules of the economy,” Guerra said.

The PRO Act aims to strengthen federal labor laws, including: stronger protections for striking workers or workers previously on strike; prohibits employers from lockouts or work stoppages that discourage collective bargaining (think corporate-led strikes); expedites the process to reach a collective bargaining agreement or form a union when employers are dragging their feet; closes loopholes that misclassify employees as independent contractors or supervisors; and prohibits employers from forcing workers to attend meetings that discourage union membership. Like other House-passed legislation, it remains stalled in the Senate and has not reached the president’s desk.

Cuellar, a conservative South Texas Democrat who has served since 2005, voted against the legislation in 2020 and 2021. In his most recent vote, Cuellar was the only House Democrat to vote against the PRO Act. 

“By voting against the PRO Act, Henry Cuellar is saying that it’s okay to have wages stagnant for workers for over three decades,” said CWA Member Katie Garcia during the rally, which was attended by Texas AFL-CIO, Unemployed Workers United, Our Revolution, striking San Antonio Symphony musicians, DSA San Antonio, San Antonio Councilman Jalen Mckee-Rodriguez and others.

“By voting the PRO Act, Henry Cuellar is saying it’s okay for employers to fire or penalize workers for forming a union,” Garcia said. “And by voting against the PRO Act, Henry Cuellar is saying it’s okay to put the interest of corporations and wealthy above the interests of working people.” 

To explain his vote Cuellar has cited “philosophical differences” against the elimination of right-to-work laws in Texas, which allow workers to join unions and enjoy representation without paying dues that help financially sustain those unions — in effect, hollowing out and starving unions. 

Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy also spoke at the rally, blasting Cuellar for voting against the PRO ACT and warning about an ongoing five-decade corporate offensive to eliminate workers’ rights and unions. 

Levy said more Americans are interested in joining a union, but lack strong labor laws to protect or facilitate the creation of those unions. “Look at what’s happening around us, Starbucks, Amazon, nonprofits, tech companies, and the National Guard — the Texas state employees union has now said they want to be in a union too,” Levy said.

“The problem is that our labor laws make it darn near impossible for ordinary people to come together and join unions,” Levy said. “The law tilts so far towards business that ordinary working people don’t have an opportunity to come together, and that’s what the PRO Act fixes.”

Levy said the PRO Act would punish employers who break the law when workers organize, and make an even playing field between workers and bosses. 

Anahi Tapia Torres, co-director of Distributed Organizing at Unemployed Workers United, said elected officials often request the support of workers and unions, but tell them to wait when it comes to changing laws that govern their lives. 

“How dare they tell us to wait for the right time when our families are struggling and our communities are suffering,” Torres said. “We can’t wait anymore. We can’t wait anymore, we have to update our labor laws.”

“Representative Cuellar should be ashamed,” Torres said. 

The sharpest words against Cuellar were delivered by Richard Oppenheim, president of American Federation of Musicians Local 23.

“We’re in a life and death struggle against not only the ruling classes in this town, but against their vassals, and weasels, errand boys and enablers in the halls of Congress,” Oppenheim said. “We’re in a fight against people like Texas 28 Representative Henry Cuellar.” 

“Henry Cuellar is a dinosaur, that’s DINO as in Democrat in Name Only,” Oppenheim continued. “Henry Cuellar is a noxious relic who doesn’t represent like those striking symphony musicians in our midst today, and he needs to be held accountable.”

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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