Labor Reform Fight Moves to the Floor

Posted February 28, 2007 at 9:56pm

The battle over a controversial bill that dramatically changes how workers unionize is spilling onto the House floor today after a rancorous fight in the Rules Committee yielded three amendments for debate. However, the debate may be moot as President Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

The committee agreed late today to allow lawmakers to debate amendments to H.R. 800. The amendments would give companies the authority to fire employees who only sought employment to encourage the business to unionize and to give employees the ability to join a “do not call” list to avoid unwanted union solicitation.

The Employee Free Choice Act, would allow workers the option of checking a publicly viewable card indicating their desire to unionize, eliminating the current method that mandates secret-ballot voting supervised by the federal government. House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) sponsored the bill.

Supporters say the bill would eliminate corporate coercion against unionizing and make it easier for workers to organize. Opponents claim the bill would subject workers to intimidation by union officials, discouraging those who are against unionization from voting that way.

The committee also agreed to allow lawmakers to debate an amendment substituting H.R. 800 with H.R. 866, sponsored by Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.). That measure would prohibit the recognition of unions by public vote and require a secret-ballot election by the National Labor Relations Board.

The vote came after a hearing in which Democrats and Republicans sniped at each other over the impact of the bill and the past practices of the Republican leadership. Republicans engaged in “union busting” while in control, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) told colleagues. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) later countered that unions’ stand in the way of progress for many businesses, putting America at a competitive disadvantage.

McKeon argued for amendments that he said would allow a “level playing field” between management and employees, and he warned Democrats against limiting debate on the floor. Democrats, such as Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), were incredulous, charging the Republican leadership with only allowing two open hearings over a two-year period.

Despite the outcome of today’s vote, the bill faces long odds, with President Bush having issued a veto threat in a Feb. 28 Statement of Administration Policy. The bill would “strip workers of the fundamental democratic right to a supervised private ballot election, interfere with the ability of workers and employers to bargain freely and come to agreement over working terms and conditions, and impose penalties for unfair labor practices only on employers — and not on union organizers — who intimidate workers,” the statement said. “If H.R. 800 were presented to the president, he would veto the bill.”

Miller shot back that, “given the radical agenda [Bush] has pursued over the last several years it should come as no surprise to anyone that he would threaten to veto much-needed legislation to help workers bargain for a better life.”