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Roll Call

Harkin Suggests Progress on Card Check

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) indicated Wednesday that he will be ready to bring up the long-stalled Employee Free Choice Act next month, following weeks of negotiations with key stakeholders.

“We’re in meetings right now. I’m still hopeful that we can get something done,” Harkin said.

The Iowa Democrat has regularly huddled with Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) to try to hatch a compromise on the measure, known as “card check.” On Tuesday, Harkin included AFL-CIO legislative director Bill Samuel in the talks—an indication that progress is being made.

Excluded from the closed-door talks have been Democratic naysayers to the bill such as Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), whose support Harkin will need to avoid a filibuster.

But Harkin said he speaks with those Democrats “all the time.” And he said the group of negotiators represents a wide cross section of opinions on the issue.

The card check bill, presumed dead just a few weeks ago, would loosen labor-organizing rules and allow workers to unionize through open-ballot elections. It is the top issue this year for the labor movement.

Specter is seen as key to any agreement. Before he defected to the Democratic Party in late April, he took to the floor to oppose the legislation in its current form. Since then, he has softened his tone, but he has repeatedly said he will oppose any proposal that includes the open-ballot rule.

When asked if the labor industry would agree to any measure that does not include that provision, Harkin seemed uncertain, saying it’s one “of about three problems I have right now.”

Harkin said he hopes to push the legislation to the floor next month, but that he won’t take any action unless and until Minnesota Democrat Al Franken is sworn in as a Senator. Franken would give Democrats 60 votes, enough to avert a filibuster.

The seat that has been left vacant since November because of an ongoing recount and court battle over the narrow contest, which pitted Franken against former Sen. Norm Coleman (R). The Minnesota Supreme Court is considering the case.

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