Senate Republicans yesterday blocked a bill that would have made it easier for workers to unionize, striking a major blow to organized labor’s effort to eliminate the long-standing practice of secret-ballot elections.
Democratic supporters were unable to secure the 60 votes needed to end debate on the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that would allow unions to form after getting a majority of employees to sign a card or petition.
The final vote was 51-48. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania was the lone Republican to vote yes. No Democrats voted against the bill. The House had approved the measure in March 241-185.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl of Arizona said eliminating the secret ballot would have opened workers to coercion from unions and from employers.
“No one would think of depriving Americans of the right to a secret ballot in congressional elections,” Mr. Kyl said. “Workers deserve the same protection when choosing whether or not to organize a union.”
The measure has pitted labor activists and union foes in a fierce lobbying and public-relations campaign the past few months.
Organized labor said the bill was crucial for helping defend itself from anti-union employers and lawmakers.
Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and a co-sponsor of the bill, accused Republicans of misleading the public, saying workers, not employers, need greater protection from coercion during unionizing votes.
“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,” Mr. Harkin said.
Supporters of the bill say the card-signing — or “card-check” — method is more fair than holding a secret-ballot election because it’s a simpler, more-direct approach for workers to decide if they want to unionize.
But opponents called the measure undemocratic.
“The principle of a secret ballot is deeply rooted in the American tradition,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “While it is unfortunate that Democrats would seek to reverse this right, Senate Republicans today stood firm in defending it.”
Opponents also said the measure was nothing more than political payback by Democrats to the unions, which significantly supported the party during last year’s congressional elections.
In the 2006 elections, organized labor gave $57.5 million to Democratic candidates and party committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But business interests, which opposed the Employee Free Choice Act, donated $81 million to the Republican Party for national elections in 2006, the center said.