- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Those tempted to believe elections don’t have consequences should take a gander at the current legislative calendar. For the first time in recent memory, according to senior White House and congressional staff, the two major bills under consideration in the House and the Senate over the past week generated presidential veto threats. Both measures are on the agenda as a direct result of Democratic control of Congress. Unions are collecting their share of the spoils following the Democratic victories in November. Where their bills once languished in the darkness of the legislative backstage, they now are marquee productions in the House and Senate.

But while labor lobbyists are closer to their goal of using federal legislation as a union organizing tool, it’s too early to light that victory cigar. President Bush and a solid “majority” of the Republican minority are still obstacles. The president’s veto pen and the lack of a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress are the only showstoppers blocking enactment of these measures, a fact that shines even more of the spotlight on the next presidential election. Putting their man — or woman — in the White House in 2008, while maintaining a Democratic majority in Congress, is the only sure way to advance the union agenda. It’s another illustration of why elections matter and why next year’s presidential contest is a watershed for the public policy aspirations of the American labor movement.

First, consider the bill the House passed last week — H.R. 800, carrying the friendly title “The Employee Free Choice Act of 2007.” It does away with a provision from the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, mandating that workers become unionized through secret elections. Instead this measure allows the formation of a union when a majority of workers sign an authorization card given to them by — you guessed it — your “very objective” union organizing official. Forcing a worker to make that private and personal choice in a public way is coercive, intimidating and undemocratic. But it sure helps fatten the rolls of union membership.

Just steps across the Capitol, fresh labor footprints mar Senate consideration of a homeland security bill. The upper body is considering S.4, another mom-and-apple-pie-titled measure called “Improving America’s Security Act of 2007.” And while the administration supports the underlying intent of S.4, which implements additional recommendations of the September 11 Commission, the bill also eliminates rules barring Transportation Security Administration workers from forming a labor union. The White House argues that if these employees were unionized it would hamper the administration’s ability to change the nature and even location of their work, making it more difficult to respond to terrorist emergencies. The White House issued a veto threat over this provision in S.4. Senate Republicans earlier this week tried to remove this union organizing provision, but the amendment was defeated on a near party line vote following intense labor lobbying.

Not surprisingly, organized labor, which broke its picks to elect Democrats hit legislative pay dirt with the new majorities in the House and Senate. Yet for the first time in many years White House vetoes and votes to sustain or override them put Mr. Bush and congressional Republicans in a pivotal role in the lawmaking process.

Organized labor and its allies on Capitol Hill will soon learn the lesson Republicans discovered at different times when the GOP controlled the House and Senate during most of 1995- 2006: The term “majority” is misleading given the specter of filibusters in the Senate and vetoes from the White House.

While Congress will no doubt achieve some bipartisan accomplishments over the next two years, when it comes to legislation so tilted in favor of unions like H.R. 800 and the objectionable provisions included in S.4, we’ve clearly reached a stage of gridlock. Many union-back bills and amendments — once sucked into a black hole in the legislative universe of the Republican-led Congress — are now the shining starts of the Democrats agenda. But passing legislation — even if a measure makes it through both the House and the Senate — is not the same as enacting a law.

Organized labor’s only hope of turning its current clout in Congress into real changes in law will only come about by helping install a friendlier occupant at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Organized labor is enjoying some of the spoils of its allies winning control of Congress last year, but it also knows the real prize still lies ahead.

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