In Blow to 'Card Check' Bill, Specter Says He'll Vote No

Backers of the bill had hoped for support from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a moderate.
Backers of the bill had hoped for support from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a moderate. (J. Scott Applewhite - AP)
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By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the only Republican senator who did not actively oppose the Employee Free Choice Act in the previous Congress, said yesterday that he will vote to block it this year, dealing a blow to the pro-labor legislation.

Supporters of the bill need 60 votes in the Senate to stave off a filibuster. They were hoping to reach that by winning all 59 Democrats and independents (assuming Al Franken is seated from Minnesota before a vote occurs) and hanging onto Specter, a moderate from a state with a strong union presence.

But Specter is facing a primary challenge from the right, most likely a rematch against former congressman Pat Toomey, and a vote for the Employee Free Choice Act, dubbed "card check," would only add to Republican ire against him. Recognizing this, the AFL-CIO raised the possibility of urging its members to back Specter in the general election if he supported the bill.

In his statement yesterday, Specter said he had always had reservations about the bill, which would make it possible for workers to form a union if a majority sign pro-union cards, without a secret-ballot election; stiffen penalties for employer violations; and require mandatory arbitration if a union and an employer can't reach a contract in 120 days. While he agreed with unions that the current system is broken, he said he prefers more limited reforms, particularly during a recession.

Only if more limited reforms prove ineffective, he said, "then I would be willing to reconsider [card check] when the economy returns to normalcy."

The announcement dismayed labor supporters, but they vowed to press on for 60 votes. Specter's statement is "a disappointment and a rebuke to working people," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "We do not plan to let a hardball campaign from Big Business derail the Employee Free Choice Act or the dreams of workers."

Business groups were triumphant. "No other Republican senator has given any indication he would be willing to vote [against a filibuster], and you need 60 votes," said Keith Smith of the National Association of Manufacturers. "This is a key development."


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