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July 6, 2007 Volume 108 Number 13

Senate Republicans block vote on labor organizing bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Although there was enough support to win on a straight up or down vote, Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked a vote on organized labor’s most important bill this session — the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800).

By a margin of 51-48, the Senate on June 26 voted for cloture. That is, to shut off debate on the legislation. Sixty votes are needed to invoke cloture and end the debate and move to a vote on the bill.

“It is sad and shameful that Republican senators chose to block the road to the middle class by throwing up procedural barricades from their minority position,” said national AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

Oregon U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, who is up for re-election next year, was among the Republicans voting against cloture. He also would have voted against the bill. Smith told The Hill magazine, “It’s a payback to labor for their support. It’s not something supported by the American people.”

Oregon’s Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, and Washington Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell voted to end debate. All three were co-sponsors of the legislation. U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania was the only Republican voting for cloture.

Among other things, the Employee Free Choice Act would have written “majority signup” (also called card-check recognition) into labor law, raised fines for labor law-breaking to $20,000 per violation, mandated mediation and arbitration if labor and management could not agree on a first contract within 90 days and outlawed employers’ “captive audience” anti-union meetings.

Corporations and business lobbyists spent millions of dollars to derail the legislation, and the Bush Administration mobilized high-level bureau- crats — at taxpayer expense — to campaign against it.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao called it “a sad day for America” after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Employee Free Choice Act in March by a vote of 241-185.

“I’m profoundly disappointed by Senator Smith’s failure to support democracy in the workplace, even after more than 5,000 Oregonians personally sought his support,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamb- erlain. “Every 23 seconds an American worker is disciplined or fired for trying to join a union. Sen. Smith stopped his colleagues from helping curb this abuse.”

Smith, a multi-millionaire, owns a frozen food company in Pendleton. Employees there are unionized under a contract with the Teamsters.

In 2002, Oregon Teamsters Joint Council No. 37 endorsed Smith in the general election. But according to Teamsters Representative Lynn Lehrbach, the jury is still out for 2008. “His vote against the Employee Free Choice Act is certainly a strike against him,” Lehrbach said.

Greg Tarpinian, executive director of the Change to Win labor federation, said now that labor knows were everyone stands on EFCA, it will use that information. “In 2008, we need to elect a bigger majority and a new president who will champion the interests of working families.”

Seven presidential candidates from the Democratic Party support the bill, while none from the Republican Party has expressed support. Sixteen governors — including Oregon’s Ted Kulongoski, who was the first governor in the nation to endorse it, and Washington’s Chris Gregoire — and nearly 1,300 state and local elected officials in all 50 states are on board in support of the legislation.