Republicans and some business lobbyists are teaming up to make a union-backed “card-check” bill Exhibit A in the fight to keep Senate Democratic pick-up seats to a minimum next year.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign of Nevada said in a CongressDaily interview last week that the bill, labor’s top priority, has served as a rallying cry for the business community hoping to keep a strong minority of Republicans in the Senate.
Democrats are working hard to pick up three or four seats currently held by Republicans in November. Republicans are worried that a major Democratic sweep could bring unexpected victories and weaken the GOP’s position.
Speaking on Friday to the U.S Chamber of Commerce’s small business conference, President Bush reiterated a veto threat against the bill, which would allow unions to bypass secret-ballot elections if a majority of workers sign cards certifying a union.
“This bill would expose workers to intimidation. It violates the principles of our democracy, and if it were to reach my desk, I will veto it,” Bush said.
A day earlier, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, gave the National Association of Manufacturers an unsolicited lecture on the bill, saying it has become a key topic in his fundraising for Republicans.
“I’m telling people all over America to support us because we simply have to have enough votes in the United States Senate to stop heinous legislation like that,” he said.
“If union organizers go to the homes of your employees, they can get, and these are not little people — the women union organizers are not little people — they’re very intimidating people,” Hatch said. “They go to the homes of your employees and say, ‘Sign this union card.’ If they can get 50 percent plus one, you are unionized against your will, without a secret ballot election.”
Supporters of the legislation say the bill would bring the first serious update to union organizing law in half a century. They note that secret-ballot union elections can drag out for years while employers attempt to intimidate workers into voting against unionization.
Last year, the card check bill fell nine votes short of the 60 needed to overcome GOP objections in the Senate. It passed the House earlier in the year.
AFL-CIO Legislative Director William Samuel said the unions’ grassroots efforts over several election cycles have put the bill front and center among Democrats. “It’s become very much a mainstream idea in the Democratic party,” he said.
Samuel said Democratic candidates, including presidential hopefuls Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., are openly talking it. “Democrats no longer try to hide the fact that they support unions,” he said. “It used to be they would talk about it in front of a union audience and nowhere else.”
The business community is attempting to counteract the advocacy machine built by the AFL-CIO and other unions to rally around the bill. After polling on the issue, the coalition fighting the bill plans to launch a broad public campaign to help them fight the issue in the 111th Congress.
“Since legislation is effectively dead for this Congress, we’re working at a broader-based outreach campaign with TV, radio, and Internet, to allow us to pivot into a very robust grassroots campaign,” said Rob Green, National Retail Federation vice president of government and political affairs.
Unions are prepared to fight back. “We have organizations and congressional allies in every single congressional district. … They include faith-based and civil rights groups,” said the AFL-CIO’s Samuel. “The business community is understandably nervous that they’re losing support for their position.”
The card-check bill isn’t the only measure looming for the business lobby if Democrats edge closer to 60 seats in the Senate.
The Senate is poised to vote this week on another employment bill — a top priority for women’s groups — that is designed to reverse last year’s Supreme Court decision on pay discrimination.
Businesses say the bill goes far beyond the high court’s decision and would make employers vulnerable to decades-old discrimination claims. Proponents say the bill simply returns the law to its status before the decision, which they say makes it all but impossible for workers to sue.
Like the card check bill, the pay discrimination bill probably will not become law this year. Bush has issued a veto threat against it, and supporters are unlikely to win 60 votes in the Senate.
But the situation next year could be very different, and U.S. Chamber Director of Labor and Employment Benefits Randel Johnson said businesses need to keep their guard up on several fronts. “Card check is a wolf in wolf’s clothing, but other employment bills are wolves in sheep’s clothing and also need to be watched,” he said.
This article appears in the April 26, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.