In a controversial move, Republican Senator Arlen Specter has announced well ahead of any floor debate or vote that he will oppose the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) or any attempt to pass a cloture motion on it. “The better way to expand labor’s clout in collective bargaining is through amendments to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) rather than on eliminating the secret ballot and mandatory arbitration,” said Specter.
The move prompted the United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh) to voice its support of the senator's position. “We greatly respect the serious consideration that Sen. Specter gave this issue,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel. “He clearly recognized the flaws in the bill and the fact this legislation just goes too far for average Americans in taking away workers’ right to a secret ballot.”
Specter explained his position saying, “First, on the merits, it is a close call and has been the most heavily lobbied issue I can recall. Second, it is a very emotional issue with Labor looking to this legislation to reverse the steep decline in union membership and business expressing great concern about added costs which would drive more companies out of business or overseas.”
He continued, pointing out, “Regrettably, there has been widespread intimidation on both sides. Testimony shows union officials visit workers’ homes with strong-arm tactics and refuse to leave until cards are signed. Similarly, employees have complained about being captives in employers’ meetings with threats of being fired and other strong-arm tactics.”
Specter, therefore, puts the issue of the secret ballot at the top of his list. He calls the secret ballot process, “the cornerstone of how contests are decided in a democratic society.”
The requirement for compulsory arbitration if an agreement is not reached within 120 days, Specter adds, may subject the employer to a deal he or she cannot live with. “Such arbitration runs contrary to the basic tenet of the Wagner Act for collective bargaining which makes the employer liable only for a deal he or she agrees to,” Specter points out. “The arbitration provision could be substantially improved by the last best offer procedure which would limit the arbitrator’s discretion and prompt the parties to move to more reasonable positions,” notes the senator.
In 2007 when the bill came to the floor of the Senate, Specter stated he would not support the bill on its merits, but did so to take up the issue of labor law reform. “Hearings had shown that the NLRB was dysfunctional and badly politicized,” he said. “The better way to expand labor’s clout in collective bargaining is through amendments to the NLRA rather than on eliminating the secret ballot and mandatory arbitration.”
Looking at the makeup of the Senate and with a Democrat in the White House, Specter recognizes a need to separate the legislation from his desire for dialog on labor law reform. “With the prospects of a Democratic win in Minnesota, yet uncertain, it appears that 59 Democrats will vote to proceed with 40 Republicans in opposition. If so, the decisive vote would be mine. In a highly polarized Senate, many decisive votes are left to a small group who are willing to listen, reject ideological dogmatism, disagree with the party line and make an independent judgment. It is an anguishing position, but we play the cards we are dealt,” said Specter.
“The problems of the recession make this a particularly bad time to enact Employees Free Choice legislation. Employers understandably complain that adding a burden would result in further job losses. If efforts are unsuccessful to give Labor sufficient bargaining power through amendments to the NLRA, then I would be willing to reconsider Employees’ Free Choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy,” he concluded.