With Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) refusing to back a controversial union organizing bill, Senate Democrats have tapped Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to begin preliminary discussions with a handful of moderate Republicans to try to come up with a new plan for reforming the nation’s labor laws.
Democratic aides said Harkin’s outreach to the GOP is in the early stages and, because of that, declined to identify which Republicans he is courting.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), speaking Friday at a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, hinted that Democrats weren’t giving up entirely on the “card check” legislation.
“With Specter backing out on this … I know there are conversations going on with other Republicans” to find a compromise, Reid said.
The Majority Leader also used the forum to harshly criticized opponents of the bill, noting that labor unions represent only 6 percent of the work force, down from a high of 25 percent several decades ago. “I think the business community is flogging a horse that doesn’t deserve it,” he said.
Democratic aides said that should a compromise be reached, it will likely end up somewhere between the card check bill as it’s currently written and an alternative union organizing proposal floated by Starbucks Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Whole Foods Market Inc. That plan would retain the use of secret ballots when workers decide to unionize and would not include binding arbitration provisions. It would, however, include a number of other provisions, including allowing unions access to employees during off-work hours and requiring a fixed date for elections.
The alternative has been publicly criticized by Harkin and other pro-labor Democrats as being unacceptable. But privately Democrats acknowledged it was the first sign of movement from the business community that a compromise may be possible.
Democrats predicted they would likely use the existing card check legislation as the underlying bill, with any major changes being made through amendments on the floor.
Harkin, the lead sponsor of the card check bill, also known as the Employee Free Choice Act, said that he had expected amendments would be made and that Specter’s decision to drop his support for the bill would not kill it out right.
“We always expected the bill would be amended, but that does not change the fact that labor reform is needed, as even Senator Specter pointed out. There is no question that the bill will be debated and voted on because workers deserve a share of this recovery. Right now, we are looking for options that all stakeholders can agree to as a way forward to get this bill passed in both the Senate and the House,” Harkin said in a statement Friday.
Harkin is expected to begin reaching out to business interests in the coming weeks, and aides predicted work will likely ramp up during the upcoming recess.