credit: Joe Kekeris
Bill Samuel, AFL-CIO Government Affairs Director

Join me in welcoming AFL-CIO Government Affairs Director Bill Samuel, who provides a reality check for the media spin around the Employee Free Choice Act. Bill was on NPR today in a discussion of the issue with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Check it out here.

As most of you know, the Employee Free Choice Act was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate this week.

Make no mistake: This is a big deal.

This year—finally—we have a chance to restore some balance to our economy and help working people share in the prosperity they help create.

This year—for the first time in 30 years—we will take up the challenge of fixing the nation’s labor law that for decades has been badly broken.

Those in the public who rely on traditional political reporting could be forgiven for missing the significance of this moment in history.

Instead of focusing on the substantive issues involved—like, say, how working people in unions are more likely to have health care, pensions, and family-sustaining wages than those who do not have unions—the traditional media seems oddly obsessed with transparently phony rhetoric and parliamentary procedure.

Going forward in this debate, it’s important we remind ourselves what this fight is really about—and that means tuning out about 90 percent of the back and forth we’ll hear on this issue, because most of it is complete nonsense.

For example, the Chamber of Commerce and all the other employer front groups with populist-sounding names do not give a hoot about workplace democracy.

They are the voices of management. What they really care about is keeping workers from bargaining for better wages and working conditions. That’s why they oppose the Employee Free Choice Act.

And what about the horse race? How many co-sponsors does the Employee Free Choice Act have? When will Congress take it up? Will the House or Senate go first? Will there be 60 votes in the Senate to shut down a filibuster?

The truth is, it makes little difference how many co-sponsors the bill has on the day of introduction. The Employee Free Choice Act boasted 223 co-sponsors this week, which adds up to a majority of the House of Representatives. It’s extremely rare for any bill to be introduced with a majority of either body as co-sponsors.

Why are there fewer co-sponsors than in the last Congress? Well, one reason is that the Chamber of Commerce promises to spend $200 million attacking supporters of the bill.

The Employee Free Choice Act is more controversial this year than before because it’s far closer to passage than it’s ever been before. That’s why opponents are bothering to spend $200 million to defeat it.

It’s not unusual for members of Congress to say they’re undecided before any key vote. It’s even less unusual when they’re getting attacked back home with $200 million worth of negative advertising.

But it’s critical not to lose perspective. The Employee Free Choice Act will pass the House by a comfortable margin. It will get far more votes than the 223 who co-sponsored it this week.

And when it comes to the Senate floor, it will have the 60 votes necessary to shut down a filibuster. It may not have 60 votes on passage, but we firmly believe every senator who voted for cloture in 2007 is still on board.

The bottom line is that the Employee Free Choice Act will be passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama.

What makes me so confident? It’s not just the private conversations I’ve had with members of Congress.

It’s my conviction that we can’t afford not to change course. Trickle down economic policies have failed. As Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said this week during a hearing on workers’ rights, we’ve been trying to feed the birds by giving more oats to the horse. We must have a more balanced economy and everybody knows it.

That’s what this historic struggle is really about and that’s what we can never lose sight of.

Tula Connell

Tula Connell