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Business Seeks to Defeat Bill on Unions
By Jeanne Cummings
The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, February 14, 2007


WASHINGTON -- Business interests are bracing for their first clash with the Democratic Congress, raising millions of dollars to defeat a proposal to ease labor-organizing efforts.

A House committee is set to begin work today on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give greater legal protection for union organizers and would let workers choose to organize simply by signing pro-union cards rather than holding a federally supervised election.

Labor leaders made enactment of such a law a priority, after spending heavily in last year's elections to help their Democratic allies win control of Congress.

The AFL-CIO and other labor groups say that having the ability to organize workers through a card-signing process will help them to stem the multidecade decline in union representation. The percentage of wage and salaried workers in unions last year was 12%, compared with 20% in 1983. More union members may translate into greater political influence and clout at the bargaining table.

Lining up against the bill is the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, including trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as retailers and the National Federation of Independent Business. The group plans to run television ads in several states and House districts, targeting Democrats and Republicans.

"We will make sure that there is some pain associated with voting for this," said coalition spokesman Todd Harris.

Their efforts parallel those of the Center for Union Facts, which also is rallying companies to oppose the law and spent between $2 million and $3 million last year on television and other ads against it.

Business leaders say the law could allow unions to organize all or a portion of a company's work force before management became aware of the campaign.

Small franchise owners "could wake up one day, and they'd be organized. This is so efficient for unions, it makes it possible to organize on a very small scale," said David French of the International Franchise Association.

Labor leaders say a federally supervised organizing election remains an option if one-third of the workers want it. The use of organizing cards is important, they say, because union advocates and workers have faced retaliation in some workplaces as balloting approaches.

Supporters say they can get the bill through the House, where it has bipartisan support, but business groups hope to gain ground in the more narrowly divided Senate, particularly among Republicans who could try to block it with a filibuster.

That is where both sides expect a showdown. The business community "realizes that they have the advantage right now in terms of how the law is implemented," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

Even if the bill fails, labor leaders want recorded votes in both chambers so they have a record for the 2008 elections.

--Kris Maher contributed to this article.

Write to Jeanne Cummings at jeanne.cummings@wsj.com


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