Senate Republicans Block Labor Bill, Kerry Says, Opponents of Workers’ Rights Shortchange America’s Workersby Pamela Leavey
Why do Senate Republicans hate American workers? The N.Y. Times reports that “Senate Republicans today blocked the labor movement’s top legislative priority, a bill that would have made it easier for unions to organize workers.”
In a largely party line vote, supporters of the bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, failed to get the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and allow a vote on the bill. The vote was 51 for cutting off debate and 48 against.
The bill would have given workers the right to insist on a procedure, known as majority sign-up, that allows employees at a workplace to form a union as soon as a majority of them signed cards saying they wanted one. Under current law, an employer facing a unionization drive can insist on a secret-ballot election.
The bill fueled a feverish lobbying battle between business and labor. Corporate lobbyists and their Republican allies asserted that the bill would infringe on workers’ rights by denying employees the right to a secret-ballot election. Union officials and their Democratic allies said the bill was needed to help reverse labor’s decline, because employers often defeat unionization drives by intimidating and firing workers during secret-ballot elections.
Senator John Kerry, an original co-sponsor and longtime supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act made the following statement on Tuesday following the vote on the Employee Free Choice Act:
“The Republicans who stood in the way of this bill insulted workers across our country, but we will keep fighting until the right to organize is free from obstacles and fairness is restored to this system,” Senator Kerry said. “Millions of Americans want to join a union, but corporate-funded illegal activity and fear tactics have stood in their way. Since day one, this Administration has been rolling back the clock on workers’ rights and turning a blind eye to its union-busting patrons. We will restore balance to a broken labor system. I urge opponents of this bill to consider whether America’s workers deserve fair pay, health care and a stable retirement. We will fight to get this legislation back to the floor as soon as possible.”
The N.Y. Times also reported that “Republicans are already using the issue to help win corporate donations for the 2008 election.”
Labor leaders said they hope to build on this vote in future years, especially if a Democrat wins the presidency next year. The A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s president, John J. Sweeney, said, “Today’s vote shows that a majority of the United States Senate supports changing the law to restore working people’s freedom to make their own choice to join a union and bargain for a better life.”
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who had vowed to block the legislation, said, “By preserving the secret ballot in union organizing drives, Republicans made sure America’s 140 million workers are not intimidated or coerced into siding with either labor or management.”
And of course, “White House officials had vowed to veto the legislation,” given that Bush is a longtime recipient of the corporate dole.