Employee Free Choice Act heads to Senate

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The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee began hearing testimony on the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for unions to organize workers, on March 27.

The bipartisan bill, called HR 800, passed the House earlier this month. More than half of America’s unorganized workers say they would form a union tomorrow if given the chance, according to recent opinion research.

But, as workers will testify at the Senate hearing, companies routinely harass, coerce and threaten workers to keep them from forming unions, and the law is helpless to stop it. One out of five union activists is likely to be fired when they try to form unions, according to a new study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Republicans claim to go “nuclear” if EFCA reaches the Senate floor. Going nuclear means using the filibuster to prevent a vote by the whole Senate. A filibuster can be ended only upon a successful “cloture” motion. Such a motion must be signed by 16 senators. Sixty votes (three-fifths of the entire Senate) are required for a cloture motion to be successful.

Senate Democrats — who hold a slim two-vote majority margin — hope to see EFCA out of committee and on the floor before April’s Easter break. But, analysts say, it is certain that Republicans will offer amendments to try to tie the bill up in committee.

Some experts say that in order to get the bill out of committee and passed by the Senate, Democrats would be willing to compromise on card-check and arbitration. These possible moves are seen not as an abandonment of those provisions, but to get the bill through the Senate to a conference committee where differing House and Senate provisions of companion bills would be debated and where a single legislative vehicle could be agreed upon. Labor’s supporters would likely reinsert the compromised provisions during the conference debate, experts say.

Labor’s push in the weeks ahead includes meetings with senators, delegations to senators’ home offices and a week of action on college campuses from March 31 to April 4. The labor movement is urging its supporters to call their senators to support EFCA.