A representative with the world’s largest business federation was in Denver on Monday to decry H.R. 800, federal legislation that would give workers greater rights to unionize. At the meeting, business leaders were not only told to oppose the proposal by putting pressure on members of Congress, but they were also encouraged to make changes to state law.
Glenn Spencer, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and former chief of staff at the U.S. Labor Department under the Bush administration, spoke at the offices of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and warned of the “most radical rewrite of labor law in 70 years.”
At issue is a measure called the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers the ability to choose how to organize a union, either by a secret election ballot or by a majority of the work force signing union cards. Currently, employers are the only ones who get to decide how a union is formed, usually opting for an election process where there is enough time before the vote to hire new employees or implement union busting tactics.
“Congress is actually planning on passing this law, and they will unless the public makes their voices heard to their public officials, specifically in the Senate,” said Spencer, adding that “we’ll probably put at least 10 million into it, maybe more if we have to.”
Trying to pressure congressional members is not a new tactic for the chamber. During the 2008 elections the group spent approximately $100 million running ads against Democratic Senate candidates, including U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, for supporting the EFCA in the past. Because the ads were financed through nonprofit groups, the chamber was not required to disclose information on its contributors.
Another tactic being used to combat the possible passage of the EFCA is changing state law to force secret ballot elections. An organization called the Save Our Secret Ballot coalition, which includes a variety of businesses and local politicians, has been leading the way to initiate such change on a state-to-state basis. Bills have been proposed in the South Carolina Legislature, among others.
The EFCA does not get rid of the secret ballot. Instead it allows the work force to choose whether they want to hold an election to form a union. It is also doubtful that state laws would actually be able to override the federal legislation, which is set to be debated in Congress this year.
“Certainly I think those are good efforts,” said Spencer. “Whether those efforts would in fact stand up to the federal preemption issue I don’t know. Certainly we encourage states to continue passing those bills.”
Although no changes to Colorado law are in the works at this time, Chuck Berry, a former Republican state lawmaker and president of the state commerce association, said his organization would lead the charge against the measure.
“Colorado is indeed the battleground on this issue,” Berry said, noting that it will be important to pressure the U.S. Senate to deny the required 60-vote cloture for the proposal to pass — a number that the Democrats don’t have, despite a current majority of 56 members — in order to kill what he called an “anti-business agenda by organized labor.”
The most recent federal laws specifically regulating union organization are the Taft-Hartley Act and National Labor Relations Act. Both were enacted more than 60 years ago.