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02_Latest News - January 2010

January 12, 2010
U.S. Chamber Chief Warns Against Attaching EFCA to Jobs Bill
By Mark Schoeff Jr.

While organized labor pushes for action early this year on a bill that would make it easier for workers to form a union, a major business organization is warning Congress not to attach it to jobs legislation.

As soon as the House and Senate settle on a final health care reform bill and send it to President Barack Obama—a process that could take until February—the next item on the legislative agenda could be a measure designed to put people back to work and strengthen the safety net for those who have been laid off.

In December, the House approved a $154 billion bill that would redirect money from a program to stabilize the financial industry and allocate it for infrastructure projects and the extension of unemployment and health insurance subsidies.

Speculation has started in Washington that when the Senate takes up a similar measure, it will attach the Employee Free Choice Act—a bill that would allow the creation of a union when a majority of workers sign cards authorizing one.

“It would be a bad idea to put a card-check bill on a jobs bill—the yin and the yang,” said Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, at a press briefing Tuesday, January 12. “And, yes, we would oppose it.”

Labor and business advocates have been battling over EFCA for the last year. Unions assert that as more workers organize, they will increase their leverage to secure higher wages and benefits. Currently, 7 percent of private sector is unionized.

Business groups like the Chamber of Commerce argue that EFCA would raise labor costs and reduce workplace flexibility at the worst time—while businesses are struggling to come out of the recession.

The bill was introduced in March but has been stalled as supporters try to bring enough moderate Senate Democrats on board to overcome a Republican filibuster.

In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, January 11, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka predicted that EFCA would be approved during the first quarter of 2010.

“We must do it now—not next year, not even this summer. Now,” Trumka said.

Donohue dismissed Trumka’s forecast.

“With everything going on in this country, with an election coming up in 2010, you’re not going to get the votes to pass that legislation as it’s written in this quarter or in any other quarter between now and the election,” Donohue said.

It’s not clear whether the idea to attach EFCA to a jobs bill is gaining support on Capitol Hill—or even across the labor community. Although the AFL-CIO is putting an emphasis on the jobs bill and wants to see quick action on EFCA, there’s no evidence that the two are being linked.

“I’ve not heard anybody create that marriage yet,” said a union consultant who didn’t want to be identified.

Whether it moves as part of broader legislation or as a stand-alone bill, EFCA will stoke controversy. The bill, along with the Department of Labor’s proposed regulatory agenda, is creating uncertainty for business that hampers job creation, according to Donohue.

“We fought these ill-conceived policies successfully last year,” Donohue said. “We’ll pull out all the stops to do it again.”

—Mark Schoeff Jr.



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