The House passed the measure, the Employee Free Choice Act, on March 1 by a 241-135 vote, short of the two-thirds margin needed to override a veto.


The bill would certify a union if a majority of employees at a workplace sign authorizations to designate the union as their bargaining representative. It also toughens penalties against employers for National Labor Relations Act violations during organizing drives. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), the bill’s sponsor, said that “its enactment is critical to ensuring that the American economy benefits everyone.”

Industry organizations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Associated Builders & Contractors, strongly oppose the legislation, which they term the “card check” bill. ABC President and CEO Kirk Pickerel says, “This is a transparent and shameless attempt by the labor unions to strong-arm non-union members into joining their ranks in order to increase their declining membership and fill their coffers with forced union dues.”

The next round will be in the Senate. Education and Labor Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) says he will introduce a bill “soon,” adding, “I will do all I can to move it through the Senate as quickly as possible.” But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who says the House measure would “destroy” the secret-ballot principle, promises it “will meet a different fate when it gets to the Senate.”

The focus now turns to the Senate, where it will be difficult to get 60 votes to ensure the bill’s passage.

Don Kaniewski, legislative and political director for the laborers’ international union, says, “I think the prospects for its becoming law are certainly not the best.” Kennedy probably will hold hearings and may have a committee vote, says Kelly Knott, director of government affairs for  labor, safety and risk management at Associated General Contractors, which opposes the bill. “On behalf of workers, it’s a debate worth having and a vote worth having, if we can get it in the Senate,” says Kaniewski.

In the House, the vote generally followed party lines. In the Senate, if all 51 Democrats and Independents line up behind the measure, they would still need nine more votes to block a filibuster. For the bill’s advocates, “it’s going to be an uphill battle,” says Knott. “But I don’t think they have the 60 votes.” Kaniewski agrees but is optimistic. “Can we get there? Nothing is too difficult before the attempt,” he says.

abor unions scored a win when the House passed one of their top legislative priorities: a bill to make it easier to organize non-union companies. But the bill’s backers face hurdles that may prove insurmountable. In the Senate, they need 60 votes to ensure passage, a tall order. Even if the measure clears that chamber, Vice President Dick Cheney promises President Bush will veto it.