Business-backed DLC supports union-backed law

WASHINGTON (PAI) —Showing the power of election-year politics to unify feuding factions, the mostly business-backed Democratic Leadership Council said on Sept. 6 that it formally backs the labor-pushed Employee Free Choice Act.

In a press conference with four top union leaders, DLC Chair Gov. Tom Vilsack (Iowa), and DLC CEO and founder Al From promised to urge lawmakers to push strongly for the legislation and make it a top priority.

That also meant, From said, the DLC alerted its 10,000 members about its stand and urged them to urge their lawmakers to back the bill.

The Employee Free Choice Act would outlaw anti-union captive audience meetings and increase penalties for labor law breakers. The EFCA would cut employer-caused delays in union recognition by requiring the employer to recognize a union when the majority of workers sign authorization cards. It would impose mandatory first-contract arbitration if bargainers can’t agree, among other changes.

The union leaders — AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, Change to Win Chair Anna Burger, AFSCME President and AFL-CIO Political Co-Chair Gerald McEntee and Steelworkers Secretary-Treasurer Jim English — said the announcement showed the two federations could agree on a key issue: Reversing the decline of the middle class.

“The more union members there are, the better off everyone is. But when unions are under attack, as they are today, we are all in danger,” Burger said. EFCA would help reverse that, “yet employers are violently against this legislation. They like the current union election process just the way it is … a parody of democracy.”

“If the United States could adopt just one policy” to address lower wages for all workers, the health care crisis, worsening inequality and declining political participation, “protecting workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain collectively should be that policy,” Sweeney declared. “Nothing else would give a greater boost to the well-being of hard-pressed working families.”

The agreement between the DLC and the two union federations is notable for several

reasons:

• The DLC and organized labor have been at loggerheads for years, especially on trade issues. The DLC called unions “a special interest,” even though, as From and Vilsack said, the National Education Association and two union presidents — Harold Schaitberger of the Fire Fighters and Michael Sullivan of the Sheet Metal Workers — are prominent in the DLC.

• While they agree on EFCA, Sweeney made clear that labor and the DLC still differ on other issues.

• As McEntee put it, the prospect of retaking at least one house of Congress this fall spurred the discussions. “The right wing has taken over leadership of the Republican Party and we’re going to try to be successful in changing that.”

• Vilsack is considering seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. He has a pro-worker record as Iowa governor, as Sweeney noted, and his state holds the first caucuses. But Vilsack also is trying to separate himself from the other lesser-known contenders — all of whom trail Sen. Hillary Clinton in name recognition.

Sweeney added EFCA should be a cause for all political parties. He pointed out that some Republicans are among its 216 House co-sponsors and 44 Senate co-sponsors in the GOP-run Congress.

But McEntee doesn’t expect many more GOP backers soon. “We’re having a harder and harder time finding Republicans who support some of our issues,” he said.