'Rebirth of Progressive Politics' Seen in Employee Free Choice Act

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A bill designed to ease the requirements for union organization could mark the "rebirth of progressive politics," according to a professor who believes increased union membership will lead to Democratic victories and liberal policies.

"The labor movement is still the most effective political force for electing liberal candidates at the local, state, and federal levels," Occidental College professor of politics Peter Dreier writes in the current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. "A strong labor movement thus benefits other [liberal] agendas and causes."

The Employee Free Choice Act, sponsored by George Miller (D-Calif.) in the House and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) in the Senate, would do away with secret ballot voting in the unionization process. Instead, employees would be allowed to unionize with a public "card-check" process, making unionization much simpler.

Supporters say the measure would protect workers from harassment by employers who try to influence the secret ballots with threats. Opponents say the bill does nothing to protect workers from harassment by co-workers and union organizers who will know whether they support unionization because the card-check is public.

The measure passed the House in March by a 241-185 vote largely along party lines - 13 Republicans voted for it; two Democrats voted against it. It is on tap to be examined in the Senate later this year.

Dreier urges liberals of all stripes to support the EFCA, because he argues bigger union membership could lead to more Democratic politicians in power due to union leaders' support for Democrats.

As much as 95 percent of union political contributions support Democratic candidates.

"And once in office, pro-labor politicians are typically the strongest supporters of the environment; the civil rights of women, homosexuals, and minority groups; universal health insurance; Social Security; affordable housing; and funds for public schools and higher education," Dreir writes.

It's a realistic if "crass" approach, in the view of Bret Jacobson, a senior research analyst for the Center for Union Facts, one of the leading opponents of union leadership and the EFCA.

"You're actually seeing a swath of traditionally liberal organizations who you wouldn't expect to care about labor policy to start caring about passing this one bill because they know that a union movement with more dollars means a stronger liberal agenda," Jacobson told Cybercast News Service.

"It's a mechanism for increasing your political power," he said of liberals not interested in labor law but supporting the EFCA. "It's very crude, it's very crass, but it's little more than just an attempt to hope that unions will drive a liberal agenda."

"Because of the billions of dollars at their disposal," Jacobson said, "union officials hold the most sway over the Democratic Party and the liberal agenda, and with them being able to back more candidates in every election from here to eternity after EFCA passes, the whole public policy agenda in America will shift leftward and more towards an anti-business bias."

Jacobson criticized people who call themselves "progressive" but support the law for political reasons. "The only way a so-called progressive could justify reducing workers' rights ... is if they believe in a strict ends-justify-the-means logic. It's clearly anti-democratic," he said.

George Leef, author of "Free Choice for Workers: A History of the Right to Work Movement," agreed. "If someone were truly liberal ... he would certainly not support this legislation. In fact, [he] ought to be in favor of going back to individual choice."

Leef told Cybercast News Service that the EFCA "prevents workers from ever hearing the downside and unless you're a real tooth-fairy person who believes there is never a downside to unionization ... you ought to be in favor of people hearing the pros and cons."

Dreier did not respond by press time to requests for comment on his column.

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