President Barack Obama owes a lot to the unions. Its no secret that labor spent massively on his behalf during the presidential election last year and directed a tsunami of voters to the polls. Union foot soldiers helped make the difference for him in places like Ohio and other hard-hat-rich swing states. While the president has already moved on several union-friendly initiatives, time is running out on what may be a one-time opportunity to pass a cherished labor goal, the Employee Free Choice Act.
But the president faces a conundrum. To get EFCA passed, he must lean on some of the same politically imperiled moderate Democratic Senators hes pressuring now to approve a health care overhaul and whose votes may be needed for climate change legislation as well.
By soliciting their support for EFCA, he will expose himself and them to an all-hands-on-deck campaign teeming with negative ads from the business community.
Little could be closer to the hearts of union leaders than the card check bill, which labor leaders view as an act of simple justice that would also grow their membership by making it easier unionize workplaces. With a Democratic president and Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate, union operatives want a vote ASAP, before the political season heats up. The game is in the Senate, where EFCA backers are probably just a few votes short of the 60 they need to overcome a filibuster.
Top union officials say they believe Senate leaders are willing to move on card check early next year, after Congress acts on the health bill and a jobs bill. They expect Obama to help make the fight.
Obviously its a priority for us, one veteran union operative said. Were going to say to the White House, Remember when you said you would do EFCA when health care is done? Well, now health care is done.
Obamas commitment to the legislation was spelled out in an appearance before the AFL-CIO in Philadelphia on April 2, 2008, when he was still slugging it out with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for the Democratic presidential nomination.
If a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union, its that simple, Obama said. Lets stand up to the business lobby thats been getting their friends in Washington to block card check. Ive fought to pass the Employee Free Choice Act in the Senate. And I will make it the law of the land when Im president of the United States of America.
Labor officials have been in intensive discussions with Senate Democratic leaders about the issue. According to one labor source, union presidents will huddle with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday, and card check, along with the health care bill now on the Senate floor, will be on the agenda.
Democratic aides seem unsure of the timing for the bill, despite the expectations of labor sources.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.