Unions mount a big push against the Senate filibuster

Unions, led by the Communications Workers of America, are mounting a full-fledged drive to end filibusters in the U.S. Senate.

Labor and progressive organizations say it is essential to end procedures that have allowed a Republican minority in that body to stall or kill a wide array of progressive legislation.

In full-page newspaper ads and a letter to lawmakers, the union-led coalition, www.fixthesenate.org, blasted the filibuster rule, which lets a minority of 41 senators to stop virtually anything. In the ad, coalition members backed “an end to the needless obstruction that threatens the vibrancy of our democracy.”

Besides the CWA, whose President Larry Cohen has made filibuster reform a top union cause, other signers included the Steelworkers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the AFL-CIO, the Auto Workers, IFPTE and SEIU.

Workers and their allies have a special reason to push filibuster reform: One leading bill that never came up for a vote in the last two years, due to a planned GOP filibuster, was the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing and bargaining contracts.

“In place of a deliberative process that prioritizes open debate, accountability, and cooperation, the Senate has descended into gridlock and partisan warfare at great expense to our nation and its ability to rise to challenges of our time,” the coalition said.

“The rules governing the Senate, in addition to the way these rules are manipulated, are in need of examination. The unprecedented use of the filibuster and holds, often done in secret and out of the view of the American people, does a disservice to our democracy,” their letter added.

There were 139 cloture motions – designed to end filibusters – in the last Congress, double the previous record, the letter noted. Common Cause tallied 91 successful filibusters, not counting threats that killed the EFCA and other measures.

Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced competing proposals to curb the power of a Senate minority to filibuster. The Senate will consider filibuster reform and other rules changes when it returns to Capitol Hill on Jan. 24. That gives Democrats and the coalition time to work out one overarching anti-filibuster plan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who now leads only 51 Democrats and two pro-Democratic independents, favored filibuster reform in his Jan. 5 opening speech, but was not specific. In an op-ed and his speech, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., opposed reform. McConnell orchestrated the filibusters in the Senate for the last two years.

Photo: Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, July 20, 2010, just before the Democratic majority voted 60-40 to end a GOP filibuster of legislation to extend unemployment benefits for 2.5 million Americans. J. Scott Applewhite/AP



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.