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House Passes Union Card Check Bill, but Veto Looms

By Bill Leonard   11/14/2007
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With the threat of presidential veto looming, the U.S. House of Representatives made a significant show of support for organized labor on March 1 by passing the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800). The legislation would ease union-organizing rules by eliminating secret-ballot workplace elections and by allowing union representation to be decided through a “simple card-check” process.

The House approved the measure by the vote of 241-185 with 13 Republicans jumping ranks to vote with the Democrats; two Democrats voted against the bill. If enacted, the legislation would be one of the most significant reforms of federal labor law by fundamentally changing the way unions organize within workplaces.

The bill has been a top priority for organized labor, and Democratic leaders in the House have pushed the bill, saying it would strengthen the rights of individual workers. With 233 co-sponsors, it was clear from the outset that the measure had a good chance of passing in the House. Business groups with the support of GOP leaders had lined up to oppose the bill, which set up one of the most contentious debates in the House since the Democrats took control of Congress in January.

Supporters of the bill have claimed that the existing system to decide union representation had become tilted in favor of employers and hampered the rights of workers to organize. Opponents claim that the proposed legislation threatened to erode a cornerstone of democracy—the right to a secret ballot. A coalition of 300 business organizations in 50 states and the District of Columbia mounted a campaign to defeat the measure. Officials with the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace said that, through their grassroots effort, more than 27,000 letters opposing the legislation had been sent to House members.

The Bush administration has made it clear that the president will veto H.R. 800 if it gains approval from both houses of Congress. The White House issued a statement on Feb. 28 that was highly critical of the proposal.

“The administration opposes any effort to circumvent supervised elections and private balloting,” the statement read. “It is a fundamental tenet of democracy that individuals are able to vote their conscience, privately, free from the threat of reprisal.”

Democratic leaders in the House countered the administration’s criticism of the bill, saying that the legislation would strengthen the U.S. workforce by providing workers access to better pay and benefits.

“The Employee Free Choice Act puts democracy back in the workplace so the decision to join a union can be made by the workers the union would represent,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. “This is the standard right that we routinely demand for workers around the world. We should accept no less a standard here in America.”

The House vote on H.R. 800 fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said that he plans to introduce a Senate version of the bill soon. Kennedy, who is chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said he was going to push for quick action on the legislation.

“Strengthening the freedom to choose a union is a key to strengthening the American middle class, and fixing our broken system should be a top priority of this Congress,” Kennedy said in a press statement.

Republicans in the Senate replied by vowing they would work aggressively to block passage of the bill.

“This legislation would compromise a worker’s right to cast a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., ranking minority member of the HELP Committee. “This right is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.”

Political observers agree that supporters of the measure face a tough challenge in the Senate. With the Democrats holding a slim 51-49 majority, it does not appear likely they will be able to muster the 60 votes needed to end debate on the proposal and thwart a filibuster by Republicans, sources say.

Bill Leonard is senior writer for HR News.

Related articles:

White House Promises to Veto Union Card-Check Legislation, HR News, Feb. 16, 2007.

Debate on Employee Free Choice Act Starts on Capitol Hill, HR News, Feb. 13, 2007.

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