Whether out of despair, frustration, or the political calculus that more sheer aggression is needed, labor officials and progressives are taking a far more forceful tone in their advocacy for the Employee Free Choice Act.
Over the past few days, national and grassroots efforts have been launched in support of the union-backed legislation aimed not only at the Republican swing vote in the Senate, but at wavering Democrats and even the president. The strategy is in contrast to the campaign waged up to this point, when supporters of the bill -- which would allow for unions to more easily organize -- had largely tried to frame it in a more acceptable light for moderate Senators.
With several of those moderates now expressing reservations over EFCA, labor hands are expanding the scope of their efforts: calling on the wavering and even ostensibly pro-EFCA Democrats to stand with them.
"I wouldn't say [it is] so much getting tougher on 'where they stand' since they've been talking about it," said one union official, "but getting tougher on saying they need to stand with America's workers."
Even the White House is in the spotlight. Acknowledging the need to "hunt for a solution" for labor law reform this year, Service Employees International Union chief Andy Stern nevertheless did something a bit rare during a recent interview with the Washington Post: he subtly digged Barack Obama for not offering more help.
"The President has said he has a series of things -- that we agree that he needs to get done -- which are major for every man woman and child, like health care, like the budget, like financial regulation," Stern said. "We respect that we have a job to do to line up enough votes without him."
Previously, union hands, including Richard Trumka, the Secretary-Treasurer at the AFL-CIO, have said that while they'd love to see more pro-EFCA campaigning from the White House -- which has offered only perfunctory one-sentence endorsements for the legislation -- they believed the president would come through in the end.
Democrats in Congress, likewise, are finding themselves being called out for their EFCA hesitancy. Over the past few weeks, several senators, including Jim Webb of Virginia, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Diane Feintstein of California have either said they would oppose the measure altogether or believed it was the wrong economic climate to consider it.
In private, their statements drew furious responses from labor officials and progressives, who noted that unions helped elect many of these pols and that the last sweeping reform of labor law -- the National Labor Relations Act -- was passed during the Great Depression. Now, some of that frustration is seeping out into the public.
"Corporations and Wall Street have run roughshod over our economy, and as a result America's workers are losing their jobs, their benefits and their homes," said Eddie Vale, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, referencing the reluctant Democrats specifically. "We need to restore balance to our economy and make it work for everyone again. And that is why this difficult economic time is EXACTLY the right time to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. America's workers can't borrow their way back into the middle class, they need to be able to bargain into it."
Meanwhile, the pro-labor author Thomas Frank penned a scathing piece for the Wall Street Journal on the relationship between Democrats and Labor that was subtitled: "Some Democrats only care about labor's money."
"First, there are those Democrats who don't care much for labor to begin with," he writes. "Then there is the wide spectrum of Democratic donors and supporters who simply don't understand the problems of blue-collar life."
The new, more aggressive, calling-out-Democrats strategy may, in the end, not be enough to turn the tide. The print title of Frank's op-ed, after all, was "Card Check Is Dead." Webb and Feinstein's office both declined to elaborate on the Senator's prior statements. Lincoln's office did not return requests for comment. The sixtieth Senate vote needed to cut off debate on EFCA -- in its current form -- is likely to come only after another round of elections.
But labor still seems invested in going down swinging -- it held 400 events across the country during April's congressional recess and is lining up lobbying efforts for Congress now that it is back in session.
"As Keynes said in 1938 to President Roosevelt during the Great Depression, the growth of collective bargaining rights is essential to restoring economic prosperity," Vale summarized.
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