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AFL-CIO Advances Employee Free Choice Battle With New Poll

First Posted: 02/07/09 05:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:00 PM ET

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The AFL-CIO, one of the country's most powerful unions, has commissioned a new poll on the Employee Free Choice Act showing that their messaging on the legislation resonates with a broad and bipartisan swath of the population.

The survey, conducted by Hart Research Associates and provided to the Huffington Post by a union official, is meant in part to demonstrate that contention over the bill is mostly limited to the halls of power in Washington; among ordinary Americans, union officials say, EFCA enjoys strong support.

According to the study, 73 percent of adults said that they supported the Employee Free Choice Act when read the union's descriptions of the bill's three main provisions. Respondents, for instance, were asked if they favored EFCA provisions that allowed "employees to have a union once a majority of employees in a workplace sign authorization cards" or "strengthen[ed] penalties for companies that illegally intimidate or fire employees who try to form a union."

Meanwhile, nearly four in five (78 percent) said they favored legislation that generally would "make it easier for workers to bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions."

Opponents of the bill undoubtedly have polls of their own to trumpet. The business-funded Coalition for a Democratic Workplace last year asked respondents questions such as, "Should federal laws be changed by Congress to make it much easier for unions to hold elections in non-union work places to organize more workers into unions or should the laws be left the way they are now?"

And yet, Democrats believe the anti-EFCA ad campaigns run during the 2008 election season by groups like the Chamber of Commerce were largely ineffective. Certainly, the AFL-CIO poll demonstrates that labor leaders have an opening on the issue if they can push the right message. Sixty-nine percent of Independents and 74 percent of moderates and Liberal republicans said they favored the legislation, as described in the AFL-CIO poll.

Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act could be one of the more dramatic legislative battles in the new Congress. Barack Obama pledged on the campaign trail, and reaffirmed during his presidential transition, that the legislation -- which would ease the process by which workers unionize -- would be a priority.

But opposition from Republicans in the Senate will be intense. The House of Representatives in 2007 passed the act easily. Senate Democrats, however, were unable to obtain the 60 votes needed for cloture. Majority Leader Harry Reid has added to his ranks since then, but a handful of Democrats have not agreed to back the bill, and very few Republicans are likely to cross the aisle to support it (Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter is seen as the most likely candidate). For that reason, the future of the Employee Free Choice Act remains very much up in the air.

Some other data points from the AFL-CIO's study:

-- Only 21 percent of respondents, when read the union's description of the Employee Free Choice Act, said that they opposed the legislation.

-- Of the three parts of the EFCA, the broadest support was for the majority sign-up provision, which allows workers to more easily and quickly form a union.

-- Sixty-nine percent of whites, 88 percent of African Americans, and 76 percent of Hispanics supported EFCA (as described in the survey).

-- The legislation is most popular in the Northeast (81 percent) and least popular in the South (67 percent)

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