Labor eyes quick passage of new organizing law

WASHINGTON (PAI) — The new Democratic-run House in the 110th Congress will pass the Employee Free Choice Act, AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel said in a Nov. 8 interview. “It will be nice to be playing offense for the first time in my career.”

Federation President John Sweeney said of the election returns, “I think it’s clearly a mandate for a union agenda, and for addressing the amount of frustration we found” among unionists and other voters on the campaign trail.

Many of the new House Democrats are from normally Republican districts in states such as Kansas and North Carolina. Those Democrats are expected to be “Blue Dogs,” more conservative than Democratic leaders who come from union-heavy areas. Samuel says the equation is not so simple.

“I think there’s a mistaken impression about the ‘Blue Dogs,’ that they’re conservative on all matters,” he said. They may be more conservative than their colleagues on national security and on issues such as abortion, but not on economic issues, he stated.

“They all signed on to the EFCA, for example,” he said, citing Rep.-elect Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), who beat a longtime incumbent in western North Carolina’s mountains. EFCA had 215 co-sponsors, including seven Republicans, in the departing GOP House. Shuler himself made clear that at least on workers’ issues, he was with labor.

Samuel predicted the new House would easily pass EFCA, which outlaws anti-union “captive audience” meetings, writes card-check recognition of unions into law, increases fines for employers who violate their workers’ rights and mandates arbitration should the sides not agree on a first contract.

The prime House sponsor of the law — originally drafted by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) — is Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who will chair the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The prime Senate sponsor is Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who will chair the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Both Miller and Kennedy easily won re-election on Nov. 7.

The Senate is the problem for EFCA, Samuel explained. That’s because the GOP would still have enough votes, 49, to filibuster the legislation to death.

“You need 60 votes in the Senate,” Samuel admitted.

Still, with the GOP in the minority, and bearing in mind the election results, other Republicans in both the House and the Senate “may be reading the tea leaves” on EFCA and other workers’ issues, Samuel said.

There isn’t yet the high public profile on EFCA that there is on raising the minimum wage, Samuel added, but “we hope to build it.”

As for filibusters against EFCA, Sweeney noted, “We’ll face up to that issue when we come to it.”