Obama administration giving only verbal support for Employee Free Choice

ORLANDO, Fla. (PAI) – The Democratic Obama administration is giving only verbal support, and nothing more, for the Employee Free Choice Act, a top legislative priority of organized labor – the movement that played a big part in propelling the president into the Oval Office in 2008.

That conclusion comes from the response on March 3 to a press conference question to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who addressed the AFL-CIO executive council meeting here that day. She barely mentioned EFCA in her address.

Solis, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden all have said they support the law, and Obama promises to sign it once it reaches his desk. But EFCA hasn’t even come up in the Senate, where the majority Democrats can’t come up with the 60 votes to stop a planned GOP filibuster – a talkathon which needs just 41 supporting senators and which is backed by a multimillion-dollar big business campaign.

Asked bluntly what she, Biden and Obama would do to pass the law, former Los Angeles Congresswoman Solis replied: “I’m not going to tell you I have any ability to persuade members of the House and Senate” about passing the law.

Solis was then silent about what Biden and Obama would do, instead repeating a story she heard from a Machinist union member the night before about how efforts of workers to organize and better themselves on the job were halted by a vicious employer – showing the need for the Employee Free Choice Act’s passage.

“We have a lot of education to do, even when enforcing current laws,” Solis added in her answer to the press conference question. And Solis told the council that “I’m frustrated, too” by the slow overall pace of change. “It’s like moving a battleship.”

The Employee Free Choice Act would help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing drives and in negotiating first contracts. It would do so by writing majority sign-up, also called card-check recognition, into labor law.

Majority sign-up, part of original labor law, has been recognized by National Labor Relations Board rulings since 1962. EFCA’s version says that when the union gets an NLRB-verified majority of election authorization cards at a worksite, the workers, not the bosses, get to choose between immediate mandated recognition or a board-run election.

EFCA would also sharply increase penalties for labor law-breaking, make it easier to get court orders against violators, and mandate binding arbitration between the union and management over a first contract if the two sides can’t reach agreement on their own within 120 days.

Solis’ response to the Employee Free Choice Act question did not surprise Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, chair of the federation’s organizing committee and an outspokenly vehement backer of the bill.

“There is no current path to passage” for it in the Senate, Cohen told Press Associates Union News Service. House approval of EFCA is taken for granted.

“The keys to the future are five things we talked about” to enhance organizing “and to keep the foundation strong,” Cohen added. The “five things” include but are not limited to new organizing strategies through Jobs With Justice, publicity about employer law-breaking via American Rights at Work, the federation’s own Voice at Work drive, and marshaling community and religious allies such as the NAACP.

Legislatively, Cohen said there are “longer-term ways” to enact EFCA. They include changing Senate rules to shut down filibusters, or using reconciliation to pass EFCA. Reconciliation is a special procedure, usually reserved for spending and tax bills, that bans such talkathons. Bills need only a simple Senate majority, 51, to pass.

“But the most-promising path is to get a functioning NLRB,” Cohen said, alluding to the fact that the five-member NLRB has had three vacancies since Dec. 31, 2007. Vacancies delay and deny justice to workers: the NLRB rules on labor law-breaking cases and often decides which workers even have the right to union representation.

In her speech to the council, Solis said that even while waiting for EFCA, other remedies could help workers. “It doesn’t mean we give up” on the legislation, she said of the Democrats’ loss of their 60th Senate seat in a special election in Massachusetts earlier this year. “It means we need to strategize and work on making things different within our agencies” at the Labor Department, she added.

Solis spent much of her speech asking for union leaders’ and members’ help on Obama administration causes. One is the health care overhaul, threatened again by a filibuster. That overhaul includes a 40 percent excise tax, starting in 2018, on the value of health insurance plans above a minimum of $27,500 – a tax Obama forced top union leaders to accept and which upset many council members and rank-and-file unionists.

Others included comprehensive immigration reform, influencing Department of Labor proposals to make final rules more worker-friendly, and more relief – including another jobs bill – for the unemployed. And Solis touted Labor Department reversals of anti-worker GOP Bush regime rules and policies in areas such as lost pay and overtime and job safety and health.

Photo: Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, second from left, addresses the AFL-CIO executive council, March 3. Left to right: AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler, Solis, federation President Richard Trumka and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker. ( Joanne Carole Wojtyto http://www.flickr.com/photos/labor2008/ / CC BY 2.0)