Card Check War Perseveres

Both Sides in Debate Still Duking It Out

Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:22pm

Organized labor and trade groups are promising that it will be business as usual after Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-Pa.) surprise announcement this week that he will not cast the deciding vote to cut off debate on controversial “card check— legislation.

Some union officials on Wednesday privately questioned Specter’s motives — he faces a potentially difficult primary challenge — and his sincerity, saying the lawmaker “left the door open— in his statements that would appear to support possible alternatives to the Employee Free Choice Act.

“People are trying to determine what the play is here with Specter,— a union official said. “He likes to put himself in the middle of things, and people are just trying to figure out the game he’s playing.—

Specter, once considered the linchpin to securing passage in the Senate, is just one of perhaps a half-dozen votes that unions and business groups are trying to lock down, another union official said Wednesday.

Along with Specter, both sides continue to court retiring Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), moderate Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Arkansas Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, whose home state is headquarters to the EFCA-foe Wal-Mart.

“We’re going to continue to put the heat on moderate Democrats, and we’re looking for Republicans,— the source said. “There aren’t that many left.—

The legislation, which business groups fervently oppose, would make it easier for workers to unionize by giving them the right to union recognition after a majority of workers have signed pro-union cards.

Both sides made the bill a key issue in last November’s election, with organized labor rallying its membership to support President Barack Obama’s candidacy. Business groups spent millions of dollars on Senate races in states like Minnesota and North Carolina trying to make sure Democrats didn’t get to a filibuster-proof majority — primarily so card check legislation would not pass.

Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of the pro-card-check American Rights at Work, said Specter’s announcement “really doesn’t change momentum.— In fact, the group is holding out that he will perhaps again change his mind.

“I’m not going to deny that it’s disappointing that someone who’s acknowledged that we have massive problems in this labor law system that need to be addressed, flip-flopped [Tuesday],— she said. “We’d love for him to flop back.—

Maxwell’s group, which is running advertisements in today’s Washington Post and Capitol Hill publications like Roll Call, also confirmed that a television advertising blitz is in the works.

The group’s Thursday print ads tout a recent Wall Street Journal editorial stating that the EFCA “doesn’t remove the secret-ballot option,— contradicting the main criticism of the business community.

The coalition also plans on holding another fly-in next week for union members to meet with lawmakers. Maxwell said her group last week brought 200 union members to town.

“This isn’t all about Specter,— Maxwell said. “Do we need to keep up the pressure in terms of really good public education, tons of contact in states all over the country so that Representatives and Senators are hearing from their constituents about how much they want this? Absolutely.—

Andy Stern, president of Service Employees International Union, appeared to say in a statement that Specter’s announcement this week also does little to alter his organization’s approach.

“This campaign continues because, now more than ever, America’s workers need a choice, free from intimidation and harassment, to bargain with their employers for job security, better wages and health care,— Stern said. “Our President, vice president and congressional leadership are committed to this goal, and so are we.—

The SEIU has set aside $50 million to fund a combined campaign pushing health care reform, economic recovery and card check.

Meanwhile, business groups say Specter’s decision has only reinvigorated their efforts.

“We’ve always had the posture that we don’t want to win this thing by just one vote,— said Glenn Spencer, executive director of the Workforce Freedom Initiative at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Still, Specter’s decision to publicly announce that he would not cast the decisive vote on card check was widely viewed as a huge victory for the chamber, which had long targeted the Pennsylvania Republican.

Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R), now president of the anti-tax Club for Growth, is flirting with a possible primary run against Specter for previously supporting EFCA and voting for Obama’s stimulus plan.

A poll released Wednesday showed Specter losing to Toomey by double-digits in a theoretical primary contest.

Besides mobilizing grass-roots efforts in the Keystone State, the chamber organized a fly-in on March 10, bringing 70 business people, members of state chambers and others to have a face-to-face meeting with Specter.

The powerful trade group, which spent $10 million in 2008 on card check, expects to double its efforts in 2009 to $20 million, according to a chamber spokesman.

Now the chamber and other business groups, like the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, also are homing in on moderate Democrats like Lincoln and Pryor.

“They’ve chosen not to be co-sponsors this time around. It’s definitely a reflection that they are having second thoughts,— coalition spokeswoman Rhonda Bentz said.

Bentz’s group, which spent more than $6 million over the past two years trying to defeat card check, is continuing its message on Capitol Hill and in the states.

The chamber also said it will continue its planned fly-ins, attempting to keep the pressure on Republicans and conservative Democrats who have been waffling on the issue.

The chamber’s next step includes a fly-in on April 1, with about 100 people from Connecticut, Delaware, Alaska and Colorado expected to lobby on Capitol Hill.

“We’re still full speed ahead on this,— Spencer said. “We need to kill this idea once and for all.—