WASHINGTON - Unions and their allies must "connect the dots" between gummed-up congressional rules and the lack of legislation that helps workers, voters, women and their allies, Communications Workers President Larry Cohen says.
Cohen's observations on June 24 came as he accepted the "Champion of Justice" award from the Alliance for Justice, an organization of pro-worker progressive groups - including unions - and attorneys. The alliance lauded Cohen for launching and leading CWA's Democracy Initiative, which, as a first win, forced some curbs of Senate filibusters.
Those curbs, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pushed through last year, resulted in Senate confirmation of Obama administration judicial nominees, helping to even out the heavily Republican-named federal judiciary, and confirmation, for the first time in a decade, of a full 5-member National Labor Relations Board.
Introducing Cohen, retiring Senate Labor Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said CWA's large pro-democracy coalition and Cohen in particular had a lot to do with pushing Reid to finally act. Reid changed Senate filibuster rules so that only a bare majority - 51 votes - is needed to approve presidential nominees and lower federal court judges.
"'It's enough that you guys are always on my rear end'" about changing the filibuster rules, Harkin quoted Reid's comments to Harkin and other anti-filibuster senators. Filibusters forced a 60-vote threshold for nominee approval. "'Now I've got that Larry Cohen guy, too.'"
But Cohen said changing the filibuster for nominees and some judges is not enough. He reminded the crowd that it still takes 60 senators' votes to halt a filibuster against Supreme Court nominees and against legislation. He urged them to make that the next step.
Cohen singled out the Employee Free Choice Act and pay equity as particular legislative victims of GOP filibusters, and exhorted listeners to mobilize for further reform.
Harkin backed that by saying that, as lead sponsor of EFCA, he was within one vote of 60 to pass it while Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress. And then the GOP won a special election to fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's vacant seat, and EFCA died.
Cohen said that shows "the really big lesson is that you can't get your first issue" - be it workers' rights, raising the minimum wage, pay equity or comprehensive immigration reform - "through the Senate unless you win your second issue," the rules changes, first.
Otherwise, the Senate Republicans will keep blocking pro-worker legislation, voting rights bills, immigration reform and more, whenever and wherever they can, he declared.
"They'll do it on the Supreme Court (nominations), and forget about justice. They'll do it in the Senate" about regular legislation "and forget about decency," he said.