This week the AFL-CIO is holding its 2009 convention in Pittsburgh, and two issues grabbing most of the attention are overhaul of the nation's health care system and the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" (HR 1409/S 560). And the big guns are out in full force.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis assured the assembly that the Obama administration would fight for EFCA, stating "I will work with the White House so that together we make the strongest case possible for the Employee Free Choice Act….My friends, we will join you in the fight."
President Barack Obama addressed convention delegates on Tuesday. In his speech, he assured the delgates that "We'll grow our middle class by building a strong labor movement. That's why I named Hilda Solis, the daughter of union members, as our new Labor Secretary. Hilda and I know that whether we're in good economic times or bad, labor is not the problem – labor is part of the solution. That's why we've begun reversing and replacing old anti-labor Executive Orders and policies with ones that protect your benefits; protect your safety; and protect your rights to organizing and collective bargaining…And that's why I stand behind the Employee Free Choice Act – because if a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union." (By the way, if you want an interesting read, check out the article "Ties between Obama and labor tested" in the September 15th issue of The Hill.)
In other EFCA news…the new chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), last week said that he had the 60 votes necessary back in July to clear the card-check bill through the Senate, but that the late Senator Ted Kennedy's illness prevented him from traveling to Washington to cast a vote. Senator Harkin's comments are curious. There are still quite a few moderate Democrats — Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and others — who have either indicated they would oppose the bill or have not yet publicly committed to vote one way or another on EFCA or any so-called compromise. With no Republicans on board, it is a unclear on what basis Senator Harkin made this claim.
All we know for sure is that this issue is not dead. The business community, led by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, will continue to oppose any legislation that strips workers' of rights to secret ballots or forces employees and employers into untenable, government-mandated contracts. After all, EFCA, in any form, is still the "Pitts."