Are Senate Dems About To Cave On GOP Union-Busting?

February 6, 2012 12:20 a.m.

Senate Democrats and organized labor have reached a make or break moment over House-passed legislation that will make it harder for transportation workers to unionize.

One labor official said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) had “sold out” workers, by striking a deal with Republicans on a long-term reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration programs — and they have a brief window in which to set things right.

The issue goes back months.Democrats and Republicans have been unable to pass a long-term reauthorization because Republicans insisted it include a provision that would change mediation rules such that workers who abstained from unionization votes would be counted as if they’d voted “no.”

Democrats held their ground, and the provision was stripped. However, what went in was this: a new union-busting measure would make it harder for workers to trigger a union election by increasing the percentage of workers who must declare interest in unionizing from 35 to 50.

After giving it serious consideration, major unions have concluded that compromise measure is just as unacceptable. Now they’re calling on members to stand against the package until the offending provisions are deleted.

“Rewarding the House Republican Leadership’s desire to rewrite decades of long standing labor law in a flash by inserting an unrelated and controversial labor provision in a much needed aviation safety and security bill, without notice, hearing, or debate, sets an extremely dangerous precedent,” reads a statement from 19 unions. ‘We urge the Senate to delete the provisions of the bill that would amend the RLA and pass the clean FAA Reauthorization that all concerned recognize this country sorely needs and supports,” it continues.

Stripping the measure will be very difficult. House Republican and Senate Democratic principals have already signed off on the compromise. And the so-called “conference report” — the legislative vehicle reflecting the compromise — is unamendable. Labor is in effect asking Senate Dems to squash the agreement. But Republican leaders passed it in the House over the objection of nearly every Democrat, and the hope is that Senate Democratic rank and filers will follow suit.

The Communications Workers of America — which has led the push to pass a clean FAA reauthorization — will amplify their efforts Monday. But they’re short on time. And if the bill passes unchanged, it threatens to widen a rift between labor and incumbent Democrats this election year.

“CWA and other opponents urge the U.S. Senate to delete the provisions of the proposed
compromise legislation that would amend the Railway Labor Act and to instead move a clean version of the FAA legislation forward,” CWA said in an official statement. A big one to watch.

Image from Pushkin/ Shutterstock

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