Harkin had the votes to pass Employee Free Choice Act

I mentioned on Labor Day that I haven’t heard much lately about Senator Tom Harkin’s efforts to reach a compromise on the Employee Free Choice Act. The EFCA is one of the top legislative priorities for organized labor and needs 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a Republican filibuster. Several Democrats who supported the bill in 2007, knowing that President Bush would veto it, either oppose the bill or have dodged the question this year.

Harkin has been the lead Senate negotiator on EFCA and is replacing the late Senator Ted Kennedy as chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Speaking to the American Rights at Work group yesterday, Harkin said he had 60 votes lined up behind a compromise this summer:

“As of July, I can tell you this openly and I know the press is all here but we had worked out a pretty good agreement. […]”

Harkin said prominent labor leaders were on board with the deal, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union.

“That’s when we needed 60 votes and that’s when I called to get Sen. Kennedy down because we needed him for three days. That’s when Dr. [Lawrence] Horowitz told me that he couldn’t make it,” Harkin said.

The Hill’s Kevin Bogardus reported that Harkin refused to specify the terms of the compromise deal:

“I will not say because it was closely held, it never leaked out and it still hasn’t,” Harkin said. “I took it off the front-burner and put it on the back-burner so it is still on warm, OK?”

In May Harkin suggested that the “card check” provision might be dropped from the bill in favor of other changes to labor election procedures. He did not say anything about binding arbitration, which is also an important part of the EFCA.

If Massachusetts law is changed to allow Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a temporary replacement for Kennedy, then Harkin may be able to revive this compromise and pass the EFCA this fall. Democratic leaders in the House agreed earlier this year not to bring the EFCA up for a vote until the measure had passed the Senate. Getting the bill through the House should not be difficult, even if a substantial number of Blue Dog Democrats vote no.

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