Today The Employee Free Choice Act was introduced in Congress and, as David Sirota notes, some Senators who had voted for cloture in 2007 on the very same bill are getting cold feet now, complaining that EFCA is "divisive and distracting."
Expect this "divisive" talking point to be the meme du jour - it's perfect for lawmakers who desperately want to avoid talking about the substance of the issue, and instead need a process argument to justify their gutlessness. [...]
Same arguments, different issues - but now, with almost 60 Democratic votes in the Senate, and therefore no credible Republican foil to blame legislative failure on.
The fact is, in 2007 The Employee Free Choice Act passed the House 230-195 with 234 co-sponsors and had 51 votes for cloture in the Senate, which included every single Democrat (except Tim Johnson who was ill), both Independents and even Arlen Specter. That's right, Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Arlen Specter...they all voted for cloture 2 years ago and now are using the economic crisis as an excuse to flip-flop on their support, playing into the right's frame that this bill would be some radical change. Considering the bill had the support of every Democrat in Congress across the ideological spectrum, it's hard to make the case with a straight face that EFCA is anything but a mainstream and even centrist bill.
But, as Rachel Maddow explored on her show last night, the right is winning the message war on EFCA and hence we're seeing our more conservative Democrats waver. How are they doing it? Well, by lying, of course. All you have to do is listen to Warren Buffett, Obama supporter and all around economic guru, get the facts of EFCA wrong to see how widely the mis-information has spread:
"I think the secret ballot's pretty important in the country. I'm against card check to make a perfectly flat statement..."
As Rachel made clear last night, this idea that EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot and make employees more vulnerable to pressure from scary union bosses is a myth of the right. It's a message that resonates even though, the truth is really not that difficult to grasp. Media Matters sets the record straight:
...current law already allows a union that shows it has the support of a majority of workers to represent the workers [via card check] if their employer voluntarily agrees to recognize the union.
Not surprisingly, many employers don't voluntarily recognize the validity of the card check and so impose a secret ballot NLRB election. The The New York Times explains how EFCA would change current law:
The bill would give workers the right to join a union as soon as a majority of employees at a workplace signed cards saying they wanted one. Business groups have attacked the legislation because it would take away employers' right to insist on holding a secret-ballot election to determine whether workers favored unionization.
What the right doesn't tell you is that the secret ballot is still an option under EFCA but it's not up to the employer, rather it's up to the workers. As Rachel said last night:
The Employee Free Choice Act does not abolish the secret ballot. People get a choice. It's a pretty simple thing to explain actually: Employee Free Choice Act...
The messaging on the left thus far has been sort of abstract "it will rebuild the middle class," instead of confronting the "abolish the secret ballot" trope. More Democrats need to make this clearer, as Jeff Merkley did in his press release on EFCA today (via e-mail):
Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley today co-sponsored legislation to make it easier for workers to bargain collectively at their jobs. The Employee Free Choice Act would streamline the process for forming a union and empower workers.
"When workers are able to band together to improve their workplaces and wages, we strengthen the middle class. During this time of economic downturn, it is more important than ever that workers have the opportunity to earn a good wage and provide for their families," said Merkley. "The Employee Free Choice Act is a critical component of this effort."
Currently, federal law allows employers to choose whether workers use a petition or election process to decide whether to form a union. The Employee Free Choice Act would allow the workers themselves to decide whether and how to organize, so they have a free and fair opportunity to make that decision.
"Whether forming a union is in workers' best interests is a decision that should be made by workers, not management," said Merkley.
More Democrats need to focus on this idea of choice -- on the empowerment of workers to choose between card check and a secret ballot and not allow the right to spin this as the abolition of "a pillar of democracy."
If you haven't seen Rachel's piece on EFCA, watch it below (and if you have, well, watch it again):
Update [2009-3-10 20:18:8 by Todd Beeton]:Looks like no vote on this until the summer. It's time to get these wavering Dems back in the fold.