Republicans Confident They Can Block Unions' Legislative Priority In Senate

Tuesday, June 26th 2007, 7:16 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Unions seeking to make employers recognize them without secret-ballot elections are portraying a test vote in the Senate as only an early skirmish in their drive to make it easier to get a better foothold in workplaces.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the bill in March but Republicans are confident they have the 41 votes needed to block it in the Senate. That's all it takes under Senate rules requiring a three-fifths majority to advance controversial legislation over opponents' objections.

``It deserves to be defeated and I am confident that it will be,'' Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said leading up to a vote Tuesday on what Democrats have labeled the Employee Free Choice Act.

The bill would require employers to recognize unions after being presented union cards signed by a majority of eligible workers on their payrolls. Under current labor law, a company can demand a secret ballot election supervised by the federal government after being presented the union cards.

If McConnell somehow fails, the White House says President Bush will veto the measure.

Even though the bill's supporters expect to lose, Democrats hope that making the Senate vote will energize the party's labor base going into the 2008 election season.

Organized labor has called the bill its No. 1 legislative priority. ``If we have to wait until 2009 to get the president's signature, that's what we're willing to do,'' said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.

Republicans anticipate the same result on their side, looking for the vote to remind the business community that it's in their interest to actively support GOP candidates to prevent Sweeney's dream from coming true.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a fundraising video last week asking people to contribute to help stop the bill. The Center for Union Facts, a group critical of organized labor, said it spent almost $1 million in a national advertising campaign against the bill.

Union leaders brought thousands of workers to the Capitol last week to rally for the bill and the International Association of Firefighters canceled its presidential forum scheduled for Tuesday to ensure Democratic presidential candidates were in Washington to vote.

``We didn't want to be responsible for pro-labor members' absence during a vote on labor's most important legislative issue this session,'' said Bill Glanz, a spokesman for the union that helped launch John Kerry's presidential run in 2004.

The bill's proponents say years of Republican control of the White House and Congress have given corporations and businesses the upper hand when it comes to union elections. Obstacles to organizing are a major reason union membership has dropped from 20 percent of wage and salary workers in 1983 to 12 percent in 2006, they say.

Unions complain that employers have greater access to workers during secret ballot campaigns and claim that corporate threats, intimidation and eventual firings have become common for union activists. By dragging out the election process, companies often succeed in wearing down union enthusiasm, they add.

Employers contend that union recognition elections prevent just the reverse from happening. Using only a card check system, they argue, would enable union organizers to use their knowledge of who did and didn't sign cards to intimidate reluctant workers.

In the 2004 elections, organized labor gave $53.6 million to Democratic candidates and party committees in a losing effort to capture both the White House and Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That number rose to $57.5 million in 2006, when Democrats successfully took the House and Senate from the GOP.

Business concerns gave $122 million to the Republican Party in 2004 and another $81 million in 2006 for national elections, the Center for Responsive Politics said.