Supporting the Employee Free Choice Act should be a no-brainer for every Democratic senator. So, we need to ask: why are four Democratic Senators not co-sponsoring the legislation (S1041)? Are they anti-union?
As of today, every Democratic senator is on-board as a co-sponsor of the bill (as are the two independents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman). Yet, as of today, Senators Blanche Lincoln (AK), David Pryor (AK), Ben Nelson (NE) and Ken Salazar (CO) have refused to add their name.
So, I decided to find out why these four are holding out. I spoke to Jim Stowers, legislative aide for Lincoln.
"She is in the process of listening to folks who have an opinion about the bill. She wants to make sure her constituents have a chance to be heard. She wants to allow people who support the bill and those who oppose the bill to weigh in."
There was more of that obfuscating and non-responsive replies but I’ll spare you. Tate Heuer from Pryor’s office had a bit more to say:
"It’s become a lot more controversial in our state than it was. Our phones are ringing quite a bit from Arkansans who are opposed to it."
Heuer admitted that the calls, which he said were 3-1 against the legislation, were predominately coming from the business community, which he says is doing a lot of "grassroots" work. At the end of the day, though, he says his boss will vote for the bill.
So, why not get out in front? Heuer considers co-sponsorship a "symbolic act."
By the way, both Lincoln and Pryor had been previous co-sponsors of the legislation when it was introduced in the last Congress.
An interesting historical parallel: Arkansas politicians have a not-great recent history of undermining the labor movement (and I’m leaving aside here the not-inconsequential shilling Bill Clinton did for so-called "free trade" starting with his push to pass NAFTA). In 1994, the Senate was within two votes of the 60 needed to cut off a Republican filibuster that was blocking passage of a bill that would have banned the permanent replacement of strikers—an absolutely crucial protection for workers when they are forced to walk off the job. The two Arkansas Senators—Dale Bumpers and David Pryor (Mark’s father) refused to add their names to the cloture vote, dooming the legislation and, arguably, crippling the labor movement for years to come—not to mention depriving thousands of workers their jobs when they were forced to exercise a basic democratic right.
Nelson and Salazar’s people didn’t bother to return calls.
My own view: co-sponsorship shows a willingness to stand up, at the head of the pack, declare support for an important issue and, in theory, lead the fight to recruit supporters, both in the Congress and in the public, and pass the bill. Refusing to co-sponsor the EFCA, in particular, is a sign of political cowardice or, worse, collaboration with the business community, which would like to kill the labor movement.
Even the political motivation seems goofy. Lincoln and Salazar are not up for re-election until 2010, and Nelson was jut re-elected so he’s not facing voters until 2012. Only Pryor comes up in 2008 and, in what should be a strong Democratic year, it makes no sense for him to be cowering behind his desk.
Some of this boils down to money. The Center for Responsive Politics’ data shows:
• That in the 2005-2006 period, Pryor received half a million dollars in PAC money—just $30,000 of the cash comes from labor, the rest flows in mostly from business PACS.
• Lincoln banked $200,000 from business in 2005-2006, zero from labor; over her political career, 82 percent of her PAC money comes from corporate coffers.
• Given the way Nelson generally votes, this should come as no surprise. Since he was elected in 2000, 77 percent of his PAC money comes from business. In his 2006 re-election campaign, labor accounted for a miniscule $229,000 out of his $2.5 million in PAC dollars.
• Salazar also is very close to business PAC money, taking in $171,825 in 2005-2006, of which just $12,500 came from labor.
The bottom line is, in fact, the bottom line: none of these four are anxious to alienate their donors.
But, here is what should, if we were living in a rationale world, make support for the EFCA easy. If Democrats believe in a middle class in America, if the party wants to address the growing gap between rich and poor, the lack of health care and pensions, the insecurity people feel about their jobs—there is no better antidote to those problems than broad unionization.
There is only one reason tens of millions of workers are not in unions: employer intimidation and illegal behavior. EFCA would end that. And EFCA would be the beginning of the restoration of a decent standard of living.
As for the action part, call the four senators and ask them to co-sponsor EFCA:
Sen. Mark Pryor: 202-224-2353
Sen. Blanche Lincoln: 202-224-4843
Sen. Ben Nelson: 202-224-5274
Sen. Ken Salazar: 202-224-5852