Though the Employee Free Choice Act could not gain the 60 Senate votes needed to end debate June 26 and move to a decision on final passage, its backing by a 51-48 majority contains hope for the future. The bill, which earlier passed the House by a bipartisan 241-185 vote, also focuses a glaring spotlight on the refusal of virtually all Senate Republicans even to allow a vote on a fair decision-making process for the over half of U.S. workers who say they would join a union if they could. By contrast, every Democrat voted to move the bill forward.

The benefits of union membership are clear: union wages are 30 percent higher than nonunion wages, 80 percent of union workers have health coverage compared to only 49 percent of nonunion workers, union members are almost twice as likely to have paid sick days and four times as likely to have a guaranteed pension — not to mention a voice at work.

Also clear are the ways employers seek to keep their workforces nonunion. Almost all make workers attend anti-union meetings, 80 percent require supervisors to be trained on how to attack unions and half threaten to close or downsize if workers unionize. Three-quarters hire consultants to run anti-union campaigns, and a quarter of private sector employers illegally fire workers for supporting a union.

Corporate America and its representatives in government have made much of the bill’s emphasis on card-check rather than secret-ballot election. But their rhetoric turns democracy on its head. The measure’s chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), said before the vote, “No one would tolerate an election where one candidate could force the voters to listen to their campaign ads, but the other couldn’t even enter the state; where one candidate signs the voters’ paychecks but the other can’t find out who the voters are.”

The anti-union dividing line was stark and clear in the Senate vote. As United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said, the Employee Free Choice will remain an active issue for working families and communities “until we achieve a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate and elect a new president in 2008.”