Congressional backers of the Employee Free Choice Act are closer than ever to the 60 Senators they need to break a planned Republican filibuster after Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) told a crowd of trade unionists in Pittsburgh June 6, “I believe you’ll be satisfied with my vote on this issue.”
Specter made his statement to activists demonstrating outside a meeting of the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee that he attended.
U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, Specter’s potential challenger in his Senate re-election contest next year, also addressed the demonstrators, pledging to support the Employee Free Choice Act.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is denying reports that she had said she was opposed to the bill. Feinstein is one of a handful of Democratic senators who were quoted as saying they could not support the bill in its original form.
“She will not vote for the bill,” Jeri Shaffery, vice president of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, told the press last week.
Reached by phone, Gil Duran, an aide to Feinstein, said, “This guy does not speak for the senator. This must be his first rodeo because the story has not changed. It has remained the same. She is looking for a compromise. And anyone who says otherwise is engaging in wishful thinking.”
The World has reported that senators are discussing at least five possible compromises on one of the bill’s key provisions, majority sign-up. The discussions were confirmed last week by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the leader of the effort to win Senate passage.
The Press Associates Union News Service told the World today that it has received confirmation from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) that a mail-in ballot is one option being considered.
If the ballot provision becomes part of the bill, workers would vote by mail to authorize a union as their representative. The cards would be mailed to the National Labor Relations Board. If the union receives a majority of the votes it would be automatically recognized.
The majority sign-up clause of the original bill says that the union must get signed cards from an absolute majority of workers at a shop. The union could then demand and get automatic recognition or it could choose to go through the NLRB elections process.
Sen. Brown has confirmed that still another compromise is on the table. This one would shorten the length of time between the submission of authorization cards and an election for representation. The argument goes that shorter campaigns would give companies less time to engage in illegal intimidation, harassment, spying, threats and firings that they now use to fight union organizing.
In addition to Specter and Feinstein, the discussions are designed to win over the two Democratic senators from Arkansas.
While some labor leaders say they could accept mail-in ballots for majority sign-up, two union presidents – Communications Workers President Larry Cohen and Steelworkers President Leo Gerard – told the World at the America’s Future Now conference in Washington last week that they are still pushing for the original provision.
Cohen noted, “The problem with courting the wavering senators is that they want to water down the bill before deciding how to vote on the filibuster. We also have to contend with the Chamber of Commerce putting a lot of pressure on them.”
Harkin said that if all the compromises fall through he has the assurances of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader, that the bill would come to the floor in its original form for a straight up or down vote that will allow voters to see where everyone really stands.
Cohen received a standing ovation at the America’s Future Now conference when he declared, “We need to say to every Democratic senator: ‘Which side are you on?’”
jwojcik @ pww.org