By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The heat is on when it comes to the Employee Free Choice Act.
One week after U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue came to Denver to talk to business leaders about the importance of opposing the EFCA, a major labor leader made stops up and down the Front Range to promote the proposed legislation.
Stewart Acuff, special assistant to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and spearhead of the EFCA, told The Colorado Statesman this week that organized labor is ready to work on behalf of lawmakers who “do the right thing” and support the act.
Acuff said that — unlike Donohue, who publicly promised last week that the business community would go after middle-of-the-road senators such as Colorado’s Michael Bennet if they choose to vote for the EFCA — he isn’t planning to play hardball.
“I will leave it to the business community to bully political leaders in the way they bully their employees,” Acuff said. “We’re not making any threats, as they are. But we are appealing to senators’ common sense and their sense of fairness…. We will fight as hard as we can to protect everyone who makes the right decision about this legislation.”
The EFCA would ease union organization rules and, in theory, clear a path for organized labor to eliminate a secret ballot in elections on whether to unionize. Republicans and business leaders say union bosses will use the open voting process to intimidate voters they know oppose union formation.
Democrats and organized labor disagree, pointing to a provision in the act that would allow for a secret ballot if 30 percent of workers ask for one. Furthermore, they say, it will level the playing field because corporate bosses currently are able to intimidate workers who are known to favor unionization.
Acuff was in Colorado Springs, Denver and Boulder touting the importance of the labor law revision. His Front Range tour included a legislative breakfast with a handful of Democratic state lawmakers at the Colorado Education Association Tuesday morning. During the breakfast, Acuff made an impassioned speech, stressing the importance of the EFCA to working Americans and urging those in attendance to contact Bennet and demand that he support the bill.
The EFCA is not an easy call for Bennet.
He has been targeted by both labor and business groups since arriving in Congress because both feel they can appeal to his moderate political views. Bennet — a former executive for Phil Anschutz and superintendent of Denver Public Schools who has never run for public office — has appeal to the business community but was appointed to his seat by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter. Furthermore, Bennet, along with Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, recently joined a working group of moderate Senate Democrats that, according to some insiders, will play a role in brokering a compromise on the EFCA.
Bennet has yet to make a public statement about his position on the EFCA except to say he is studying the legislation and weighing the arguments. That hasn’t stopped labor and business interests from intensifying their lobbying campaign, however.
The Colorado Statesman
As Acuff was in Denver asking lawmakers and labor supporters to contact Bennet in order to lobby for passage of the EFCA, a delegation from the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry was on its way to Washington to persuade Senators Bennet and Udall to oppose the legislation.
Acuff told his Denver audience that he believes the legislation will come before Congress in seven to eight weeks and that he is hopeful Senate Democrats will be able to round up 60 votes.
“This is a close game we’re playing here,” Acuff told lawmakers Tuesday morning. “Saying (Minnesota senator-elect) Al Franken is seated, we need every Democrat to support this, and one Republican. We are working on the Republican side of things, but you can help us with the Democrats like Mark Udall and Michael Bennet who have not stated their positions.”
Most political observers agree that most voters will not view the EFCA as a campaign issue by November 2010, but that the issue will help define the nation’s newly elected officeholders. If he were to oppose the bill, Bennet might find it hard to attract union campaign donations, or he could see organized labor get behind another Democrat — possibly one Ritter passed up to appoint Bennet — in order to wage an expensive primary.
On the other hand, if he votes for the legislation, Bennet risks losing his image as a business-friendly Democrat, and he could see anti-labor forces pour millions of dollars into a 2010 GOP campaign against him.
Although state lawmakers do not have a direct vote on the EFCA issue, Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, said he wanted to attend the breakfast with Acuff to get better information and to support labor.
“I think this legislation is very important to working families and the middle class in America,” Kefalas said after the event. “I came today because I wanted more information but also because I feel it’s important that we all reach out and see what we can do to ensure this bill is passed. Talking to people and contacting our (national) lawmakers is all part of that.”