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Tuesday, Mar 24, 2009, 3:17 pm

EFCA’s Death Knell

By Jeremy Gantz

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Oh no, Specter won't vote for it:

Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced his decision in a speech in the Democratic-led Senate and suggested lawmakers now seek to instead amend existing law to make union elections fairer.

He would have been the 60th vote, which means the filibuster fix is in. And that once again, the U.S. Senate will have blocked the desire of a majority of Americans. According the Boston Globe, the AFL-CIO released a poll today that showed 73 percent of Americans favoring the bill, which would make it easier for workers to unionize.

While sympathetic to organized labor's plight, Specter opposes EFCA's card sign-up mechanism and requirement for binding arbitration. So much for sympathy. Here's a bit of Specter's statement (available at Politico here):

I have sought recognition to state my position on a bill known as the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as card check. My vote on this bill is very difficult for many reasons. First, on the merits, it is a close call and has been the most heavily lobbied issue I can recall. Second, it is a very emotional issue with Labor looking to this legislation to reverse the steep decline in union membership and business expressing great concern about added costs which would drive more companies out of business or overseas. Perhaps, most of all, it is very hard to disappoint many friends who have supported me over the years, on either side, who are urging me to vote their way...

In seeking more union membership and negotiating leverage, Labor has a valid point that they have suffered greatly from outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries and losses in pension and health benefits. President Obama has pressed Labor’s argument that the middle class needs to be strengthened through more power to unions in their negotiations with business. The better way to expand labor’s clout in collective bargaining is through amendments to the NLRA rather than on eliminating the secret ballot and mandatory arbitration.

But the most galling thing he said has to be this:

The problems of the recession make this a particularly bad time to enact Employees Free Choice legislation. Employers understandably complain that adding a burden would result in further job losses. If efforts are unsuccessful to give Labor sufficient bargaining power through amendments to the [National Labor Relations Act], then I would be willing to reconsider Employees’ Free Choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy.

Which might be never, and will surely be too late. It was a noble and giant struggle on the part of unions and their supporters, and I hate to say it, but the EFCA battle appears to have been lost. It's always, always the Senate.

Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.

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