There are 12 “wavering” Senate Democrats that supporters of labor law reform need to be concerned with, Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen told the union’s legislative conference in Washington this week.

Democrats hold a 57-40 edge in the Senate. That edge grows to 59-40 when the independents who caucus with them are counted. One seat, in Minnesota, is vacant. There, Democrat Al Franken leads GOP incumbent Norm Coleman, who has tied the election up in court.

Asked by phone to identify the 12 senators Cohen was referring to, CWA Vice President Annie Hill listed Evan Bayh, D-Ind., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Thomas Carper, D-Del., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Michael Bennett, D-Colo., Arlen Specter, D-Pa., Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and both senators from each of two states, Arkansas and Virginia.

Cohen, addressing the conference, said, “The trouble we have is with cloture.” He explained that “unions don’t have solid promises from both Arkansas senators and from Sen. Specter yet that they will vote to break a filibuster.”

He noted that the “ongoing Republican obstructionism that keeps one of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seats vacant, plus congressional concentration on health care, are combining to put consideration of the Employee Free Choice Act in a holding pattern.”

The same congressional committees that would deal with labor law reform are now busy with overhauling health care.

The result is that labor will likely have to delay its goal of having the Employee Free Choice Act on President Obama’s desk by Labor Day.

People who participated in discussions about this with CWA leaders note that a senator like Louisiana’s Landrieu should be vulnerable to pressure from labor. It is common knowledge, they say, that Landrieu could not have won re-election in her “right-to-work” state without major help from unions.

One CWA official took a dimmer view of the situation in Arkansas. “Wal-Mart got to ‘em,” he said, referring the two Democratic senators in that state.

The giant retailer, which has its national headquarters in Arkansas, has been one of the national leaders of the corporate lobbying campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act.

The measure’s lead sponsor, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, remains hopeful, however. “The EFCA is alive and kicking,” he said last week, adding, “But we need 60 votes, which means we’ve got to wait for Franken to be seated.”

Harkin has said there are a number of compromises in the works that would replace majority sign-up (card check) with one or another form of balloting that would involve mailing cards in to the National Labor Relations Board.

Asked whether any additional compromises are on the table, a source in the senator’s office said that one possible compromise would lengthen the time period before arbitration can be mandated. In its original form, the bill does not allow companies to drag their feet in negotiations for a first contract for more than 120 days. Presumably, a compromise on this point would allow them to drag their feet for a longer period of time.

The source also said that some senators, under pressure from companies, have asked that the stiffer penalties that the EFCA provides for those who break labor law be applied mostly to “repeat” rather than first-time violators.

Some note that Wal-Mart has violated labor law almost 300 times in the last five years.

jwojcik @ pww.org

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