In what is, perhaps, the most devastating blow yet to the fate of the Employee Free Choice Act, Sen. Blanche Lincoln said on Monday that she will oppose the union-backed legislation.
The Arkansas Democrat, whose home state includes WalMart, one of the major business groups fighting EFCA, announced her decision during a meeting of the Little Rock Political Animals Club.
"I cannot support that bill," Lincoln said, according to Arkansas Business. "Cannot support that bill in its current form. Cannot support and will not support moving it forward in its current form."
Labor forces can ill-afford to lose any Democrats in this legislative battle, given the partisan lines of the EFCA vote in 2007. Already, Sen. Arlen Specter, the lone Senate Republican to vote for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act back then, has indicated he will oppose cloture if the bill were to be brought up in this Congress.
Lincoln, long considered a crucial Democratic vote on EFCA, was the focus of intense political pressure. Union groups were courting her support while the business community had made her a primary target for defection. Indeed, WalMart hired her former chief of staff for the precise purpose of lobbying on EFCA. Lincoln is up for reelection in 2010.
UPDATE: AFL-CIO spokesperson Eddie Vale says he isn't distraught with the news.
For the next two weeks, thousands of people are participating in hundreds of events across the country in support of the Employee Free Choice Act," he writes. "We're confident that labor law reform is going to pass in 2009. The Employee Free Choice Act is built on 3 fundamental things and we're continuing to talk to Senators to build 60 votes for a bill that stays true to those principles:
o Workers need to have a real choice to form a union and bargain for a better life, free from intimidation
o We have to stop the endless delays; companies can't just stall to stop workers' choice
o There have to be real penalties for violating the law.
Vale also contested my characterization of Lincoln's remarks being a real hit for EFCA proponents saying: "This certainly isn't 'devastating' as you described it, it's political science 101.A bill is introduced and then Congress works through the process of committees, amendments, and debates and 99 out of 100 times the final bill is different from when it started."