WASHINGTON (PAI) Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is telling unionists they will have to go out and push for the Employee Free Choice Act, but with a promise of verbal support from the Obama administration. And unionists didn’t even wait for that message, which she delivered near the end of a July 15 speech in Washington to more than 2,000 teachers and school paraprofessionals attending AFT’s Quest Conference.

Instead, union members and their allies are staging mass rallies and marches for the act, labor’s #1 legislative priority, even in hostile areas: 1,500 people turned out for a recent march for EFCA in Little Rock, Ark., a “red state” represented by two Democratic senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, who are on the fence, at best, about the law.

Proclaiming the proposed law “the civil rights cause” of the new century, the unionists started their march at historic Little Rock Central High School, scene of a famous integration battle in the 1950s, and wound their way downtown to the state capitol. Their objective was to convince Lincoln and Pryor to vote to shut down a planned GOP filibuster against the measure.

Solis wants the teachers and their fellow unionists to be out on the streets nationwide for the measure, which would help level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing drives and in bargaining first contracts.

“We’re supportive of what you do and we honor you,” she told the unionists at the end of a well-received speech closing the conference. “We’re proud to work with you on the Employee Free Choice Act, on education reform, on health care reform.”

But those remarks came after Solis told the teachers to go out and campaign for the legislation.

“The president is very much behind the effort to get people back into the middle class,” Solis said of her boss, Democrat Barack Obama. “Part of that is passing the Employee Free Choice Act and strengthening the right to bargain collectively. But to make sure it passes, you need to keep the pressure on in the states and congressional districts. You’re the best salespersons to do that,” she declared.

Backers of the legislation need 60 Senate votes to shut off the planned GOP-run talkathon against the measure. While the Democrats hold 60 seats, some — like the Arkansans — are shaky. Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, still says he will vote for the filibuster. And two sure supporters of the legislation, Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., are ill.