Labor reacts to Specters switch to the Democratic Party

The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, reacted quickly to the announcement by Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator Arlen Specter that he is switching to the Democratic Party.

“Specter’s vote on the Employee Free Choice Act has been pivotal in determining whether the critical working families’ legislation will pass,” the federation noted in its statement.

“We look forward to continuing an open and honest debate with Senator Specter about the issues that are important to Pennsylvania and America,” said Bill Samuel, the federation’s legislative affairs director.

Samuels noted, however, that the labor movement “will support elected officials based on their positions on issues that matter to working people, not political affiliations.”

Samuels was hopeful about Specter coming around on employee free choice, despite the senator’s statement, when he announced his party affiliation switch, that he would remain opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act.

“Sen. Specter has said all along that he recognizes the need to reform our broken labor law system and labor will continue to work with Congress to give workers back the freedom to form and join unions and pass legislation that stays true to the principals of the Employee Free Choice Act.”

Bill George, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, told Press Associates today that Specter still had “a way to go” before he could get that group’s endorsement. He noted that although Specter has a 68 percent positive rating by the federation’s Committee on Political Education, “which is good for a Republican,” the federation wants to see him support employee free choice, universal health care and reform of trade pacts that don’t guarantee worker rights.

Samuels, in his statement about Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party, said EFCA is based on three fundamental principles and that he believed a bill that stays true to those principles will be passed.

The first of those is that “workers need to have a real choice to form a union and bargain for a better life, free from intimidation.” The second core principal, he said, is that “we have to stop the endless delays, companies can’t just stall to stop workers’ choice,” and third, “There have to be real penalties for violating the law.”

Some, like Andy Stern, president of SEIU, have suggested that the unions might give up card check, which would require union recognition by the company once a majority of workers sign cards authorizing that representation. Most in the labor movement see that type of compromise as a violation of the core principles outlined by Samuels.

A source in one of the building trades unions told the World that senators have received letters from a union proposing that there could be a box on the authorization card that asks workers whether they want a secret ballot election. Such an election, of course, would have to take place quickly and not allow for company harassment of workers that now often occurs. This type of compromise would apparently not violate any of the core principals laid out by Samuels and would give Specter who says he opposes the bill as it is now written and other senators sitting on the fence room to come out in favor of it.