Saga of an Earlier Labor Bill

The union card-check bill, AKA the insultingly-mislabeled “Employee Free Choice Act” (EFCA), looks ready to slide through Congress without a hitch.  But, as both history and many clever sayings remind us, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over and the fat lady sings and the chicks hatch. (add your favorite cliché in the Comments section.)


Back in 1974, the Democrats strengthened their control of Congress with a big win in the wake of Watergate.  They picked up 49 seats to cement a huge 292-143 majority (makes Ms. Pelosi’s 235 votes look small).  Democratic constituency groups wanted things.


Construction-industry unions (which then dominated the AFL-CIO) had suffered a recent setback when the US Supreme Court outlawed a practice called “common-situs picketing.”  This was the shutting down of an entire construction site based on a dispute between a single union and a single sub-contractor.  Building-trade unions wanted to be able to use this weapon, and that would require passage of an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act.


HR5900 had little trouble passing the House (230-178), and got 62 votes to overcome a Senate filibuster; but President Ford vetoed it.  For unions, it became a major interest in the 1976 presidential campaign (most had sat out the 1972 debacle), and Jimmy Carter promised to sign it if he were elected.


He was, and the House took up the bill again.  But this time it was defeated 205-217.  Eleven Democrats who had supported the bill in 1975 changed their minds two years later.


What had changed?  Well, for one thing, in 1975 it was headed for a veto; in 1977, it was headed for a signing ceremony.  Democrats in close districts knew that if it passed, they might hear about it from their anti-union voters.  But a vetoed bill is usually an issue only for the vetoer.


So, enough history.  What does all this indicate about EFCA, which passed the House last year 241-185?  Maybe nothing.  Or maybe the skids are not as well-greased as unions hope.




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