Small Business Takes to the Hill

Posted April 1, 2009 at 6:38pm

When Chuy Medrano decided to take the trip from Colorado to Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s fly-in on the Employee Free Choice Act, it had nothing to do with the potential glamour of meeting powerful lawmakers.

As co-owner of CoCal, a landscape company that employs about 400 people in Colorado, Medrano said he is far more concerned about the effect the “card check— bill could have on the future of his company. And he wants lawmakers to know about it.

“I’m a little scared of what the onset of this could mean,— Medrano said. “The idea of taking the private vote away from my employees, that’s my concern.—

Businesses both large and small have opposed the bill because it would give their workers union recognition after a majority had signed pro-union cards, eliminating the secret ballot now used to determine unionization.

Dressed in jeans and a leather vest with a cowboy hat, Medrano was a member of the nearly 40-person delegation that Denise Reeves of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry helped organize.

Shuttling past office furniture strewn along the hallways of the Russell Building, the delegation was primed to tell the state’s two Democratic Senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, not only to vote against the bill, but also that any compromise would be unacceptable. Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman also met with the group.

The grass-roots lobbying campaign is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, and it comes after Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-Pa.) announcement last week that he will not vote to begin debate on the bill.

That, of course, does not mean the legislation is dead.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has already begun a concentrated effort to keep alive the bill, which appears to be only a handful of votes short of passage.

Harkin has stayed mum about what Republicans he is targeting, but likely suspects include Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine.

Following Specter’s decision, both sides of the controversial union organizing legislation are continuing their multimillion-dollar lobbying campaigns.

The chamber’s ground game on the union bill has been in effect since 2007, when it sent a handful of people across the country to educate local chambers and businesspeople on what it sees as the downside of the bill.

This year, the chamber brought its grass-roots opposition to Washington to convince lawmakers to vote against bringing the bill to the floor. Delegates from Delaware, Colorado, Alaska, Montana, Connecticut, North Carolina and Florida blanketed the Hill on Wednesday to try to ensure the bill’s demise.

The chamber’s fly-in came a day after the unions brought some of the cast members of the “West Wing— to Capitol Hill to kick off their “Faces of the Employee Free Choice Act— campaign.

Following a roughly hourlong meeting with the three Colorado lawmakers, the delegates were less than thrilled by Udall’s and Bennet’s positions on the bill.

Udall co-sponsored a similar bill last session but has not signed onto the current bill. Bennet has so far refused to take a position.

“My sense was that the Senators said we are going to compromise, not that they are going to kill this baby,— Medrano said of the meeting with Udall and Bennet.

Jo Wilson, senior vice president of human resources for the credit card processing company TransFirst, and who was also at the meeting, agreed.

“It was not comforting,— Wilson said. “It seemed ambiguous at best. They were almost supportive at worst, which concerns me greatly about the unintended consequences,— she added.