A hotly disputed pro-labor-union bill that looked like it was heading for passage after Democratic gains in the 2008 election was essentially killed today by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.
New Times first told our readers about this proposed federal law in our feature story on the local fight between a labor union and the Bashas' grocery store chain. In December, a national group opposed to the bill announced that Arizona would be among five states to launch a citizens' initiative that would have required unions to use secret ballot elections when organizing workers. That would have rendered moot the Congressional bill.
The so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" would have actually taken choice away from employees by eliminating the ballot elections for unionization of a company. In place of the elections, unions could simply get employees to sign cards over time. Once a majority were collected, the union would be legally attached to the targeted company. Businesses, naturally, opposed the bill strongly.
The Democrats of Arizona's Congressional delegation all supported the bill. In the Senate, which is split 58-41 for the Democrats, support for the bill ran strictly along party lines.
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Specter, assuming Al Franken would ultimately win a seat in the still-contested Minnesota Senate race, knew he would be the deciding vote -- and he says "no." The Republican from Pennsylvania had previously seemed to lean the other way, prompting the AFL-CIO to announce it would back Specter for his 2010 re-election bid if he voted for the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, still hoped to see passage of the bill with some Republican support.
Labor unions, of course, aren't likely to give up on the bill. They've suffered declining membership for years and know they'll see gains if President Obama ever gets the chance to sign the Act into law.
Plus, unions have spent tons of money propping up the campaigns of our nation's Democratic leaders in the last two election cycles, and they need some return on their investment.