Organized labor calls it simple justice. Industry calls it a union power grab and a threat to the economy. Labor Secretary Ray Marshall calls in an essentially "symbolic" issue that must be resolved befor order is brought out of the choas of collective bargaining in the construction industry.
The issue - while which is scheduled to be voted on today by the House - is common situs picketing.
This is a fancy term for giving a union the right to picket and thus possible close down an entire construction site even if its dispute is with only one of many subcontractors.
But the legislation goes far beyond construction site picketing, a highly emotion-charged issue that has bedeviled Congress for 30 years and created such furor in 1975 that then-Secretary ofs and created suh a fauror in 1975 that then-Secretary of Labor John T. Dunlop quit over over President Ford's veto of an earlier version of the bill.
The bill also includes potentially far-reaching restrictions on the free-wheeling autonomy of local construction unions: they must submit advance notice for strike plans; national parent unions would be able to veto local strikes and in some cases bargaining agreements; and a presidentially appointed commission would be created to help standardize negotiating procedures among the 10,000 union locals and 500,000 contractors in the extraordinarily balkanized construction industry.
To the extent that it expands the power of national construction union leaders, it is a reflection of their historic role as the dominant component of the AFL-CIO - which is led, not conincidentally, by former plumber George Meany.
Today's House vote is the first test of the AFL-CIO clout with the new Congress after its massive involvement in the 1976 elections, although early predictions of easy House passage en route to a more difficult fight in the Senate are now being hedged.
Democratic and Republican leaders agree that there areabout 200 votes for the bill and 200 votes against it, with 35 undecided. Most of the 35 are Democrats, many of them with sizable labor constituencies.
AFL-CIO lobbyist Kenneth Young said yesterday the vote prospect is "closer than we'd like it to be" but predicted passage. Victor Kamber, top aide to Robert Georgine, president of the AFL-CIO's building trades department conceded that, "We were over-confident . . . We started believing our own press clippings." But labor lobbyists were out in force yesterday and Kamber said he believed "the numbers are there for us."
There is widespread agreement that the rest of labor's congressional agenda - including repeal of legislation authorizing state right-to-work laws and other sweeping changes aimed at making it easier for unions to organize and negotiate contracts - could hinge on the picketing vote. Even a close House vote could make it easier for foes of the legislation to mount a cloture-proof filibusetr in the Senate, some union leaders fear, and thus stymie labor's whole program.
Consequently, industry lobbyists have zeroed in on the House. The Associated General Contractors, for instance, has sent preprinted postards to employer members of their group, urging that they distribute them in workers' pay envelopes and have their superintendents collect the signed cards, for mailing to House members. The postcards were reportedly pouring in yesterday.
The situs issue goes back to a 1951 Supreme Court ruling that picketing of an entire multi-contractor construction site by one union constitutes an illegal secondary boycott. Since then, construction pickets have been confined to the gate used by employees of the struck subcontractor, leaving other union members free to come and go.
Every administration since then endorsed passage of situs picketing legislation, according to Labor Secretary Marshall, but the issue did not come to a vote in Congress until 1975, when a bill passed. Although he initially supported it, Ford vetoed the legislation after the White House was inundated with mail from opponents. The veto triggered the resignation of Dunlop, who had been instrumental in drafting the legislation's collective bargaining provisions.
President Carter has declined to lobby for the legislation but said he would sign it if it includes the bargaining reforms and an exemption for small residential construction projects, which it does in the form now before the House. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]N. Georgine, whose takeover of the 4.1 million-member AFL-CIO building trades department three years ago signaled more vigorous advocacy of expanding construction picketing rights, contends that it would simply give construction workers a right that industrial workers already have: to picket and close down an entire job site.
Industry representatives, arguing that construction unions already have special privileges not enjoyed by industrial unions, say the bill is a thinly-masked effort to force unionization of the entire industry, which has become increasingly non-union in recent years. They say it would increase unemployment, inflation and small business failures.
Marshall, testifying on behalf of the legislation, said its most likely effect would be to make job sites either exclusively union or exlusively non-union, which he said may promote industrial peace, productivity and good management.
More importantly, he said, the instability of labor-management relations in construction-marked by widely varying and often inflationary wage settlements as 10,000 local unions attempt to outdo one another - cannot be tackled effectively so long as everyone's arguing over picketing rights.
The bill would permit entire-site picketing after a union local gives 10 days' notice and gets written approval from its parent national union - except for residential projects of five or fewer units under contract to a builder who constructed no more than 20 such units in the previous year. Unions estimate this would exempt more than 70 per cent of all single-family and small garden apartment construction.
The second part of the bill, which some industry representatives say would be desirable if it weren't tied to the picketing provisions, creates a Construction Industry Collective Bargaining Committee appointed by the President from labor, management and disinterested parties.
The committee would require 60-day notification of contract expiration and would be empowered to defer a strike or lockout for an additional 30 days, during which the committee may enter the negotiations. The committee could also seek participation by national parents unions, in which case no agrrement could be reached without the parent union's approval.