- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009


In what a Democratic sponsor described as “one of those defining moments” in U.S. history, a bill to make union organizing easier was introduced in both congressional chambers Tuesday, stoking an already intense lobbying assault between labor and business groups.

The “Employee Free Choice Act” — also referred to as “card check” — would enable workers to form a union if a majority of employees sign authorization cards, taking away the ability of businesses to require a secret-ballot election.

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, and Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, unveiled the legislation by tying union organizing to the recession, saying card check is necessary to ensure that an economic recovery is “fair.”

“Concentrating so much wealth and power in the hands of the few is unsustainable,” said Mr. Harkin, referring to an imbalance between worker and management salaries. “We’ve gotten the message loud and clearly.”

But the introduction of the bill set off a rapid fire of press statements from Republicans and business groups, who say eliminating the secret ballot would eliminate jobs, among other charges.

“Secret-ballot elections are a fundamental tenet of American democracy,” said Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican and chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “Unfortunately, congressional Democrats are willing to trample this essential liberty to pay back their special-interest friends. Their plan will absolutely open the door to intimidation and coercion, which should have no place in America.”

The legislation will originate in the Senate, even as Mr. Harkin conceded Democrats do not yet have the 60 votes to stop a Republican filibuster, saying Democrats would have them in a matter of weeks. Mr. Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said the bill has 223 co-sponsors in the House, making it a sure bet.

President Obama already has signed executive orders supporting key labor-agenda items, but the new bill is expected to provoke the sharpest fight between the labor and business lobbies. Labor unions provided critical support for Mr. Obama in key Midwestern states during the presidential campaign and also claim credit for helping elect a number of new House and Senate Democrats.

Other parts of the bill would impose higher penalties on employers who violate labor laws and would require arbitration if companies and workers cannot reach a collective bargaining deal after 90 days.

Business-backed think tanks long have targeted the card-check effort for defeat.

“This legislation represents a cynical and transparent attempt by politicians to reward the special interests that have funded their campaigns,” said Katie Packer, executive director of the Workforce Fairness Institute.

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