WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked organized labor’s top legislative priority this year, a bill designed to make it easier for unions to organize workers at nonunion workplaces.
No issue splits the national parties more starkly than those involving organized labor, and this vote was no exception: Democrats and two independents stood behind labor, and among the Republicans, only Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania broke ranks.
The resulting tally – 51-48 – left the Democrats nine votes short of the 60 they needed to cut off debate in the Senate and bring the bill to a vote.
Labor unions and their supporters in Congress, deploring the outcome, portrayed the bill as pitting the middle class against the rich. “The vote made clear exactly who is on the side of working families’ dreams and economic opportunity – and who is siding with corporate America to block those opportunities,” said AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney.
Business groups, by contrast, said the fundamental issue involved the right to secret ballots. “Secret ballots protect the rights of the individual and prevent coercion, and that’s worth fighting to preserve,” said Tom Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied against the bill.
The House passed the bill, 241-185, on March 1. That number in favor was 43 votes fewer than the two-thirds necessary to override the veto that could have been expected from President Bush.
The bill would have required employers to recognize unions if more than half of eligible workers signed union cards. Under a law dating back 60 years, employers who are presented with union cards from a majority of their employees may demand an election by secret ballot – a procedure designed to prevent coercion of workers by unions.