The Employee Free Choice Act is organized labor's top legislative priority. With their man in the White House and a nearly filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, unions are sitting pretty. Yet many observers believe that Obama won't push the legislation with the economy in trouble. How will unions get it passed? Here's one scenario nobody's talking about.
The business lobby has worked hard to position the Employee Free Choice Act as a business killer, and Barack Obama recently told the Washington Post that, while he supported increased organizing, he was willing to listen to objections from businesses when fashioning a solution. He also noted that it is important in today's economic environment to work on creating jobs first.
That looks like a scenario for stalling the Free Choice Act. But looks can be deceiving. Consider the second bill up for debate in the Senate in the 111th congress. Senate Bill 2 is the Middle Class Opportunity Act of 2009 or what I call the "middle class" bailout package. The House has already proposed its package and all observers agree that this will be Obama's number one priority when he arrives in the Oval Office. The Senate version contains this provision: "ensuring workers can exercise their rights to freely choose to form a union without employer interference" - a broad description of the goal of the Employee Free Choice Act.
It is very likely that somewhere in this bill union supporters will add some or all of the key provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act. It will be politically difficult for Republicans to vote against this package and nearly impossible for a Democrat to buck the party so early in Obama's term. While there may be some compromise on the "two headed monster" of card-check and mandatory arbitration, don't be surprised if those provisions are added as proposed in 2007.
Even if Obama wants to take a measured approach to this debate, he won't veto his own bailout package if these provisions are included, even if the busienss lobby cries foul. Especially as we enter the first quarter earnings season and more businesses shut down or layoff workers, there will be immense pressure applied to get this package passed. And that is how the Employee Free Choice Act will come into being - as part of the Middle Class Opportunity Act.