From the NYT:
Six months ago, Arlen Specter, then a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, made big news by announcing that he would vote against organized labor’s No. 1 priority, a bill that would make it far easier to unionize workers.
But at the A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention here on Tuesday, Mr. Specter demonstrated what a difference becoming a Democrat can make. The senator, who switched parties in the spring, gave a full-throated endorsement to the labor legislation as he addressed the crowd.
Granted, a provision he most objected to has since been deleted as advocates for the bill try to sway moderate Democrats and a few Republicans their way. But in addition, Mr. Specter predicted that the bill would gain the votes necessary for passage.
In assessing the views of some of the more reticent moderate Democrats on this issue, Mr. Specter said he believed Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat who has criticized card check, would oppose efforts to filibuster the proposals, but would ultimately vote against the bill. He said he believed Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat who also opposed card check, would also now vote to stop a filibuster.
The legislation no longer has “card check” (automatic unionization once 50% of the workers have signed a pro-union petition) but it has two other provisions that, between them, do almost the same thing: snap elections and real enforcement of NLRB rules against union-busting.
And it has the provision that’s more important than any of that: binding arbitration on a first contract if the two sides can’t agree. Right now, companies can just refuse to make a deal, wait six months, and then run a de-certification election (using the same dirty tricks they use in the initial elections) with the argument that “This useless union you guys voted for can’t even get you a union contract.”
If Specter is right – and telling the truth – about Nelson and Lincoln, this year might see the passage of the most important piece of pro-labor legislation since the Wagner Act.
Two general lessons:
1. Hurrah for primaries!
2. There’s sometimes an advantage to making a tough opening offer. Since the unions asked for card-check, the sacrifice of card-check now makes this look like “compromise” legislation. Not being able to start out by asking for single-payer makes it harder to come to a health-care deal that lets the “moderates” save face .