Union chieftains are seeing June 26, 2007 as a date they would like to forget. Their number-one legislative priority – passage of a mandatory card-check bill – went down to defeat in a procedural vote. Senate Democrats had been promising for weeks that they would try to break a threatened Republican filibuster over the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA (S. 1041), a measure whose benign title belies its intent. The Senate voted in favor of invoking cloture (i.e., ending debate) by 51-48 — a majority, but one well short of the required three-fifths. EFCA would have forced employers to recognize a union as a bargaining agent if the union obtains signed cards indicating a desire to join by over 50 percent of affected workers. This “card check” process would have preempted the secret ballot as the primary means by which workers decide upon representation.
The vote played out almost completely along party lines. Every Democrat voted for the measure; every Republican, save for Arlen Specter (Pa.), opposed it. The House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. George Miller, both California Democrats, passed its own bill (H.R. 800) on March 1 by a 241-185 margin. The movement on EFCA was no coincidence, say opponents. With Democrats now holding a majority in each of the House and Senate, they knew it was payback time. Unions contributed $57.5 million to Democratic candidates and party committees during the 2006 election cycle, up from $53.6 million during the 2004 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit watchdog group. And for the unions, the hour was getting late. The unionized share of the American work force has fallen from nearly one third 50 years ago to 20 percent in 1983 to 12 percent last year. Having for decades used the card check as an organizing tool – and with a higher success rate than through standard National Labor Relations Board-supervised secret-ballot elections – they viewed the Employee Free Choice Act as one of the few possible routes back to the glory years.
Supporters of the bill asserted they were looking out for the interests of workers. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa (in photo), argued that employers, far more than unions, have been responsible for workplace coercion. “This bill does not establish a new election process; it merely requires employers to honor employees’ choices on whether or not they want to unionize,” he said. Union leaders are furious at the outcome of the Senate cloture vote. “It is sad and shameful that Republican senators chose to block the road to the middle class for millions of workers by throwing up procedural barricades from their minority position in Congress,” remarked AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Theirs is a stunt that working men and women will remember when they go to the ballot boxes in 2008.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., countered that the measure, operating under the guise of “free choice,” would have overturned the basic framework of union democracy established in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. “The principle of a secret ballot is deeply rooted in the American tradition,” said McConnell. “While it is unfortunate that Democrats would seek to reverse this right, Senate Republicans today stood firm in defending it.”
As discussed previously in Union Corruption Update, union organizers often employ aggressive tactics to obtain worker signatures, often showing up at their homes or other places outside work – and often persistently. What’s more, union officials and their researchers have been marshaling misleading statistics in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. The blitz of support, however, met its match. The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a fundraising video the week before the cloture vote asking for contributions. Additionally, the Center for Union Facts, a Washington-based opponent of union practices, spent almost $1 million in a national advertising campaign against the bill. Their investments seem to have paid off – for now.
Supporters of card-check legislation are committed to giving their foes as little time as possible to celebrate. Union activists have vowed to reintroduce the bill possibly as early as next year. “This fight is far from over,” said Jeremy Funk, a spokesman for a union-supported group, Americans United for Change. “There’s no denying the ground has shifted for the labor movement and that the American public wants a fix to the broken system for forming unions and bargaining with employers for fair treatment.” Freshman Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, made clear he’s not going to yield in his support of the Employee Free Choice Act: “We will keep coming back year after year after year.” The collective-bargaining process might not be “broken,” but neither is the unions’ political machinery. Organized labor means business. (Associated Press, 6/26/07; Washington Times, 6/27/07).