Legislation that would make it easier for labor unions to mount workplace organizing drives is advancing in Congress as expected. The union-backed “Employee Free Choice Act” cleared a House committee on Feb. 14. But on the same day, Vice President DIck Cheney cheered the measure’s industry opponents when he pledged that President Bush would veto the bill if it gains final congressional approval.

The measure, which the House Education and Labor Committee  approved by a 26-19 vote is a top priority for organized labor. It sees improved chances for passage with Democrats now in control of both chambers of Congress. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the legislation “levels the playing field to give workers a fighting chance to bargain for better wages and benefits.”

But business organizations, such as the merit-shop Associated Builders and Contractors, are strongly against the measure, which they call the “check card bill,” because it allows workers to sign a card indicating they want to join a union.

ABC contends the legislation would would make workplace elections no longer private because workers could sign cards in front of other employees. “The right to a private ballot is a cornerstone of our democracy,” says Kirk Pickerel, ABC’s  president and CEO. “These elections are the only way to guarantee employees confidentiality when making one of their most important career decisions.”

Industry groups took heart from Cheney’s statement. “Our administration rejects any attempt to short-circuit the rights of workers,” he said. “We will defend their right to vote yes or no by secret ballot and their right to fair bargaining.” The pending legislation “violates these principles, and if it is sent to the president, he will veto the bill,” Cheney said.

In the Senate,  the organizing bill had not yet been introduced as of Feb. 19. If  the measure passes both houses and Bush vetoes it,  a two-thirds vote in both chambers would be needed to override the veto. That sort of margin will be tough to achieve in the Senate, where Democrats have only a 51-49 majority, counting Independents Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) and Bernard Sanders (Vt.).