March 24th, 2009
05:00 PM ET
9 years ago

Key senator comes out against hotly disputed labor bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A controversial bill designed to boost the ranks of America's unionized workers was dealt a potentially fatal blow Tuesday as a key moderate Republican senator announced his intention to oppose it.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a five-term legislator from a state with a historically strong union movement, said he plans to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act because it threatens to eliminate secret ballots in union elections.

Secret ballots, Specter said in a written statement, are "the cornerstone of how contests are decided in a democratic society."

He added that his decision means that there is likely to be unanimous Republican opposition to the bill. The GOP currently has 41 seats in the Senate - one more than necessary to sustain a filibuster.

If the Democrats cannot find 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to end the filibuster, they cannot bring the bill to a vote.

The controversial act would allow employees to signal support for unionizing by openly signing a card demanding it. If a majority signed, the company involved would have 120 days to negotiate union representation before facing compulsory arbitration.

The bill would also stiffen federal laws barring employers from intimidating or firing workers who try to bring in a union.

The traditional option to vote by secret ballot would still be available.

But critics say the measure - dubbed the "card check" bill by its opponents - would effectively eliminate union elections, removing a fundamental hard-earned right of workers and forcing some workers into unions they don't want to join.

Specter said his decision to oppose the bill was "very emotional" and "a close call" on the merits. He argued that in seeking "more union membership and negotiating leverage, labor has a valid point that they have suffered greatly from outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries and losses in pension and health benefits."

The Employee Free Choice Act is supported by President Barack Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership, but is fiercely opposed by most congressional Republicans and corporate leaders, who fear it will saddle a sagging business community with new burdens at the worst possible time.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, dismissed Specter's announcement as little more than an effort to undermine potential conservative primary challengers before the veteran GOP senator's expected 2010 re-election bid.

Reid said there are other Republicans besides Specter who may support the bill, though he declined to provide any names.

- CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report

Filed under: Arlen Specter
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. malclave

    Specter's actually doing the right thing?

    Card Check needs to be defeated. Support the right to a secret ballot.

    March 24, 2009 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  2. phoenix86

    The Employee Free Choice Act forbids the secret ballot.

    How can that be a free choice? This bill is nothing but an attempt to allow unions to strong-arm themselves into non-union businesses and make all American uncompetitive.

    Obama's support for something so unconstitutional as this shows his astounding lack of understanding.

    March 24, 2009 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  3. Dakota Kyle Evans

    Recent polls show that the majority of Americans are FOR both big government and unions.

    It seems this is just one more misstep by the Party of No.

    Keep right on marching deeper into the wilderness!

    March 24, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  4. a neo-con zionist opposing pro-workers bill

    and that's news?

    CNN, you can do better in spinning truth.

    but then again, you yourselves are neo-con praxis,

    who have no concept of truth and conscience.

    March 24, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  5. Brian

    The bill doesn't prohibit secret ballots, it just offers another means of unionizing a workplace.

    CNN and most other news sources continue to allow Repubs and Big Business to lie about the bill's content.

    Welcome to America.

    March 24, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  6. Mel

    Actually phoenix, its you thats showing an astounding lack of understanding because you obviously didn't actually read what was said.

    Did you miss this part? "The traditional option to vote by secret ballot would still be available."

    That means secret ballot is NOT being eliminated, its being made optional.

    Learn to read.

    March 24, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  7. John P

    Rarely do I agree with Arlen Specter but this time he is right. Secret balloting is something unions fought for so companies couldn't bully employees into voting their way. Now unions want to eliminate secret ballots so the unions can now bully employees. American unions have outlived their usefulness, it is time for them to die. Perhaps in the process we can implement merit pay and have innovation returned to American industry.

    March 24, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  8. Christian L.

    It states in the Bill that a secret ballot would still be available, as it is also stated in this article. Employees will be offered a choice, hence the title of the bill. Is this too complicated for some people to understand?

    March 24, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  9. shannon

    Brian, you are the one not being truthful, you declare publicly who you intend to vote for. Please stop lying to get unions where people don't want them.

    March 24, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  10. Brian Crooks

    How is it that nobody has offered a succinct definition of this bill? It does NOT eliminate the secret ballot; it just gives the choice to the workers on whether they want a secret ballot or if they want to sign a card. Right now, that choice is made by the ownership, who also schedules mandatory and illegal conferences and meetings to scare employees away from unionizing. CNN, do your job and have Campbell Brown cut through the bull to explain that card check doesn't forbid the secret ballot so we all know how full of crap people like phoenix86 are.

    March 24, 2009 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  11. Moderate Democrat

    I think the question needs to be asked and answered: Why do they think ballots don't work?

    I see this as nothing more then a blatant attempt of the unions to force thier existance by no other means of 'peer pressure'.

    How about we just start signing a piece of paper and if enough sign it, we replace the President? No ballots, no tallying, no districts, no electoral college, no Primary. Just "oh, look at all the signatures, congratulations Mickey, your our new President". Thought not.

    I'm a HUGE supporter of Obama. But this one, hope it's dead on arrival. Balloting and voting is the democratic way. Want me to sign that one? No problem!

    March 24, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  12. Brian

    "Brian, you are the one not being truthful, you declare publicly who you intend to vote for. Please stop lying to get unions where people don't want them."

    Read the bill.

    March 24, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |