Why is it even news that a Republican Senator opposes making it easier for workers to form unions? Because Specter was actually a co-sponsor of Employee Free Choice in 2003 and 2005 and the only Republican Senator to vote for cloture on the bill in 2007.
Specter's "flip flop" means Labor is still looking for one Republican to join with the 59 Democrats to prevent a filibuster this time around. (Specter was thought to be the most likely Republican defector.) Media outlets portrayed Specter's new position as the nail in the coffin of the Employee Free Choice Act. The Hill called it a "death blow" to labor's biggest legislative priority.
Oh well! Let's just forget Democrats' large majorities in both houses of Congress, our popular Democratic president, and the solid public support for Employee Free Choice. Mr. Specter doesn't like it so we better just take our toys and go home.
Hold on a second. The progressive coalition has barely even begun to fight for the EFCA. And that's our problem. The moderate Republicans that we need to persuade have not felt any real heat yet.
Here are a five things the Left should do to crank up the heat moving forward:
1. Demand leadership from President Obama. In the Senate, Obama was a co-sponsor of the EFCA. It's time for him to step up and do all he can as President to get it through Congress. He should start with a press conference or another Internet town hall meeting to discuss the legislation and dispel some of the common misinformation about EFCA. Next, he should begin a series of campaign-style rallies around the country to drive home his point and take control of the media coverage on the issue--similar to what he did pushing for the economic recovery package in February. He should, once again, wrap himself in the mandate from his election to push through a legislative priority. He should travel to Tar Heel, North Carolina, where workers finally won union representation (and wage and benefit increases) at the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant after a 15-year battle with the company. Bringing Smithfield workers on the stage with him, Obama should say that the Smithfield case demonstrates the EFCA, making it easier for workers to exercise their rights to form unions. He should highlight similar stories in several places around the country.
2. Increase Labor's on-the-ground efforts and target them in a few key states. We're talking knocking on doors, local TV and radio ads, rallies, letters to editors--all that stuff. Aim for moderate Republicans and particularly vulnerable Republicans. Here are four states to think about, each with varying prospects. (Feel free add to this list in comments.)
- Pennsylvania - Arlen Specter could at least be persuaded to vote for cloture. The guy is in a pickle. He is being challenged by a big business Republican in his upcoming primary, pulling Specter further to the right. And he just pissed of the Labor Left in a blue, union-heavy state. Specter is caught between a rock and a hard place. If it starts looking like he'll win the primary, he might want to start walking back his EFCA opposition to make things easier for him in November 2010.
- Maine - Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are the Republican Senators here. The state doesn't have super union membership, but it's reliably blue and in the northeast, making it a fair prospect if Obama casts EFCA as an Obama vs. Limbaugh issue. The Maine ladies can keep winning as Republicans, but not if they are seen as thwarting Obama's agenda.
- North Carolina - In this new blue state, Republican Senator Richard Burr is looking weak for 2010. He is already trailing the leading Democrat in polling for that race. Burr might be persuaded to shake things up and cast himself as a different kind of Republican. It's hard to imagine him ever supporting Employee Free Choice outright, but he could possibly "oppose it" while voting for cloture (and thereby ensuring its passage). A big Obama rally in Tar Heel with the Smithfield workers would help.
- New Hampshire - Republican Senator Judd Gregg awkwardly rejected President Obama before. Let's see if he'll do it again on the EFCA. Again, blue state, northeast--even if it is kinda conservative compared to the rest of the region. Also, it's a small enough state that a massive ground campaign could make a big difference.
3. Throw in some carrots with these sticks. Unions should consider floating a bargain to moderate Republicans:"Support the EFCA and, if it passes, we will not target you in your next election." They did this to some extent with Specter, but it might be tried with others.
4. Play tough with conservative Democrats. It's pretty much expected that every Democratic Senator will support the Employee Free Choice Act, but a few of them are sounding wobbly. (No, not that kind of wobbly.) The Senate Democratic leadership should whip these few into line in the normal ways. But in addition, unions should offer this warning to conservative Dems:
"If you waver on Employee Free Choice, we will support a progressive Democrat to challenge you in the primary and/or support a third-party progressive candidate in the general election."
5. If all else fails and Republicans are going to filibuster, then let them filibuster... and filibuster and filibuster. Let the public see that 41 Republicans are willing to clog up the work of the Senate indefinitely in order to make it harder for workers to organize. If the filibuster is their only trick for the next 8 years, then let's wear it out in the first. Let the public watch Senator Cornyn read from the phonebook on the Senate floor, and let news anchors compare it to Strom Thurmond's longest-ever filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
I would like to see each of these five things before we start talking about a death blow to the EFCA. And even then, a "death blow" would only mean delaying it until 2011, when there will most likely be a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate.