Ending a political drama that threatened his reelection, Sen. Arlen Specter (R.,Pa.) said moments ago that he would oppose a bill that would make it easier for workers to form unions, legislation on which he was positioned to be the crucial swing vote.
On the Senate floor, Specter said that he was concerned the bill would elminate the secret ballot vote on whether to unionize. The proposed legislation, named the Employee Free Choice Act but called "card check" by detractors, would allow a union to be recognized if a majority of workers in a shop signed cards acknowledging their support.
He said that the "secret ballot is the cornerstone of how contests are decided in a democracy." Specter also said he was concerned about a compulsory arbitration provision in the bill that would force empoyers and employees into binding arbitration if no contract was reached within 120 days of the recognition of a union.
"The problem of the recession makes this a particularly bad time to enact" the bill, Specter said, fearing that it could cause "further job losses." He said it would be better to amend the 80-year-old labor relations law to remove unfair burdens on union organizing without messing with the secret ballot.
Specter was the only Republican to vote to cut off debate in 2007 when the legislation, which passed the House, failed in the Senate. There were not enough votes to break a GOP filibuster. Republicans are threatening a filibuster again and labor had hoped Specter would again vote to cut off debate and bring the bill up for a vote. With a larger Democratic majority, his support could have been enough to clear the procedural hurdle.
His decision makes passage of the bill, the top priority of organized labor and a ca mpaign promise of President Obama's, less likely this year.
Specter was pressured from both sides - labor unions even pledged to re-register Pennsylvania members as Republicans to help him in the 2010 primary if he were to support the bill.
"This announcement should end the rumor mill that I have traded my vote for some ‘deal’ to my political advantage," Specter said.
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