Big Labor bussed thousands of activists to Capitol Hill Tuesday to lobby for the Employee Free Choice Act—an act union leaders have called their top legislative priority for the 110th Congress.
Event organizers claimed they brought 2,000 participants on 62 busses from the Campaign for America’s Future’s “Take Back America” conference to the Upper Senate Park.
There, a parade of Democratic congressmen and senators delivered hard-line progressive rhetoric to their pro-union advocates.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) furiously ripped up a full-page advertisement sponsored by the Center for Union Facts that was published that morning in the New York Times, USA Today and Roll Call.
The Center for Union Facts opposes the act, and their advertisement featured a large quotation: “There’s no reason to subject the workers to an election.” This quotation appeared with the question, “Who said it?” and displays photos of the former President of Uganda Idi Amin, President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees Bruce Raynor.
Kennedy held the advertisement high and said, “Here is that advertisement! They say there is no reason to subject the workers to elections. [It asks,] 'Who said it?' And then it says union bosses are pressuring the Senate to change the rules on union organizing. Learn about their scheme to eliminate workers’ right to a secret ballot at Union Facts.com. This is what I say to that!”
At that point Kennedy tore the advertisement into shreds-- an act that drew wild applause from the crowd.
Small print at the bottom of the Center for Union Facts’ ad reveals the quotation came from Raynor. The quotation was published in a May 31, 2003 article by the New York Times titled “Labor Turns to a Pivotal Organizing Drive.”
Brett Jacobson, a senior researcher at the Center for Union Facts, watched Kennedy’s outburst. Responding to this, Jacobson said: “Ripping up the ad tells you how desperate labor leaders and their politicians are to only have one side of the story told.”
The Employee Free Choice Act would allow unions to organize places of employment through a public petition-like process called “card check.” Currently, in order to organize, the majority of workers must cast votes of support to unionize their workplace in a secret ballot process. Opponents of “card check” believe eliminating secret ballots would encourage union bosses to intimidate workers into supporting Big Labor.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) also appeared at the rally in support of the bill. She told participants: “We [politicians] work better when you [labor] work for us!”
Other Democrats who addressed the crowd included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Sen. Richard Durbin (Ill.), Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio).
Before the activists were bussed to Capitol Hill, Democratic candidate for President and former North Carolina senator John Edwards spoke at the “Take Back America” conference. He said, "If you can join the Republican Party by signing your name to a card, any worker in America ought to be able to join a union by doing exactly the same thing."
Brendan Steinhauser, grassroots manager of FreedomWorks, a non-profit that also opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, protested the rally with signs. He was physically confronted by union workers. Steinhauser said he was pushed and that one of Freedomworks’ female interns had her hair pulled. [View related photos here.]
Steinhauser said, “It’s ironic that the unions claim they were rallying against worker intimidation when they sought to intimidate FreedomWorks supporters by trashing our signs, pushing us, and threatening us with physical violence. They were not interested in any democratic debate, and only representatives from the Socialist Workers Party would actually talk to us.”
FreedomWorks plans to post video footage of their confrontational interactions with union supporters.
On Wednesday, Majority Leader Harry Reid interrupted debate on energy legislation to file for a cloture vote in the Senate on the Employee Free Choice Act. A vote to end debate on the Employee Free Choice Act and proceed to a final vote of passage on the bill, called cloture, could occur as soon as Thursday.
The Employee Free Choice Act passed in the House on March 1, mostly on party lines. Only 2 Democrats voted against the bill. Thirteen Republicans crossed party lines to vote for it.
Greg Mourad, who specializes in legislative affairs for the National Right to Work Committee, said he does not expect the Senate to pass a cloture vote on the bill. He said Democrats just need to “throw a bone to their labor union bosses.”
He also said it was “obscene” that Democrat leadership would “interrupt important debate in immigration and war issues to have a throw away vote they know is going to lose on an issue as evil as card check.”
He was not hopeful that defeat on a cloture vote would discourage Big Labor from continuing to pressure members of Congress to pass bills favorable to unions. “They [unions] have spent a billion dollars each election cycle for the last 10 years,” Mourad said. “They want a massive return on that massive investment.”