HR Administration

Employee Free Choice Act Supporters Press On Despite Longer Senate Odds

By Staff Report

Jan. 20, 2010

Health care reform isn’t the only issue dealt a major setback by the stunning political upset in Massachusetts. A bill that would make it easier for workers to form a union now faces longer odds in the Senate.

When Sen.-elect Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts, is sworn in to the seat once occupied by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, he will be in a position to deliver a potentially decisive vote against the Employee Free Choice Act.

Brown will become the 41st Senate Republican, which gives the caucus precisely the number of votes it needs to sustain a filibuster. Republicans used the parliamentary tactic to kill EFCA in 2007. The number of Senate Democrats will drop to 59 after Brown joins the body.

Brown, who beat Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in a Tuesday, January 19, special election to replace Kennedy, opposes the bill.

The measure has stalled since its March introduction. Even when the Democratic Senate caucus numbered 60, EFCA supporters couldn’t bring enough moderate Democrats on board to overcome a filibuster.

Organized labor is signaling that it won’t back down on EFCA, even though leaders didn’t mention the bill by name in their reaction to Brown’s election. 

“The American people are urgently expecting RESULTS from Washington,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a statement Tuesday. “If elected officials want the support of working families they need to fight to win legislation on jobs, health care and financial regulations.”

Labor supporters argue that EFCA should be part of the economic recovery conversation because it would give workers leverage to increase their wages and benefits through collective bargaining.

“We believe that Congress will be anxious to consider legislation that will help rebuild the middle class as part of its focus on jobs and the economy,” said a labor official who didn’t want to be quoted on the record talking about EFCA strategy.

Labor has been battling fiercely with business interests for nearly a year regarding the bill.

Employer groups aren’t letting their guard down. They’re wary of labor trying to use jobs legislation to pass EFCA.

“The margin against EFCA still remains razor thin,” said Glenn Spencer, executive director of the Workforce Freedom Initiative at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We’re going to remain vigilant on any effort to ram EFCA through, especially any effort to cram any provisions into a jobs bill.”

In its original form, the measure would enable a union to form once a majority of workers signed cards authorizing one, effectively eliminating secret-ballot organizing elections. It also would impose mandatory binding arbitration on first-contract disputes and substantially increase penalties against employers for violating workers’ rights.

EFCA is the top priority of organized labor, which is seeking ways to increase its numbers. Currently, about 7 percent of the private-sector workforce is unionized.

With midterm elections looming, the challenge to pass EFCA will only get tougher after this year. Democrats might lose more Senate seats in November.

In a January 11 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Trumka said that the measure would gain congressional approval by April.

“It’s kind of now or never for them,” said Brett McMahon, vice president of Miller & Long, a concrete subcontractor and a member of Associated Builders and Contractors. “If the chances are [lower] now to get something done, they may become truly impossible in the next Congress.”

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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