Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Will Specter Survive While Opposing EFCA?

The Number One piece of progressive legislation that Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has refused to support since switching parties is the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill - which would make it easier for workers to organize for collective bargaining - has been mentioned several times by Specter since he became a Democrat.

Before the party-switch, he told Republican constituents "the 41st Republican, whose name is Arlen Specter, is vital to stopping…passage of card check".

In his campaign statement following the switch, he told voters

"My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change."

Of course, during the 110th Congress, Specter supported EFCA as a co-sponsor and said he was "delighted" to let it get past the cloture vote. Since then he changed his stance - probably to satisfy Republican donors for his upcoming battle with former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) - and kept his position consistent through the party-switch so as not to appear to be a flip-flopper. But this campaign pragmatism has put him in a bit of a predicament.

As we mentioned before, the most significant reason that Specter changed parties was to avoid a Republican Primary with Toomey. But without supporting EFCA, Specter will be at a serious disadvantage in a possible Democratic Primary.

State Rep. Bill Kortz (D-Dravosburg) and Joseph Torsella (a former aide to Gov. Ed Rendell) are already running against Specter in the Primary, and many expect Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) to jump in as well.

The unions may be inclined to support any of these challengers so long as Specter opposes EFCA - a major problem for him in a Democratic Primary. As some of the most efficient progressive organizing associations, labor unions are particularly important for Democrats to win the support of going into an election.

And in Pennsylvania they’re especially important. With more than 800,000 union members statewide - and the home to the very politically active United Steelworkers - the Keystone State will be a tough place for any Democrat that opposes such a key labor law while going into a Primary.

So far the unions have made the importance of this bill clear. Last month, more than 300 union members marched in Pittsburg in an effort to reverse Specter’s position.

Yet Specter claims his newfound concerns with EFCA are not entirely about an anti-labor principle. Earlier this month he said “I’m opposed to giving up the secret ballot or mandatory arbitration as they are set forth in the bill, but I do believe that labor law reform is past overdue”. So a compromise to the Card Check Clause may be enough to bring him on board.

Sen. Diane Feinstein has such a compromise.

From the National Journal:

[Diane Feinstein's] proposal would replace the card-check provision, which would allow workers to unionize if a majority signed authorization cards and strip a company's ability to demand a secret ballot election. "It's a secret ballot that would be mailed in ... just like an absentee ballot. The individual could take it home and mail it in," Feinstein said. If a majority mailed the ballots to the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB would recognize the union.

It may not be what the unions had in mind, but many union organizers say the proposal sounds alright.

Specter, meanwhile, has suggested the Arbitration Clause could be amended to make "last best offer" arbitration (or Baseball Arbitration) into law. And Bill Samuel of the AFL-CIO says "we're open to that."

As far as passing the legislation goes, Specter may not be the only one to change positions with the compromise. It could satisfy the concerns of other moderate senators such as Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jim Webb (D-VA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Udall (D-CO), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

Ultimately, the unions may be disappointed with the concessions, but pleased that such reform would actually pass.

Specter will have his own reasons to support such a compromise bill. His future may depend on it.

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