Minister asks flock to back EFCA

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

FORT COLLINS — The debate over the Employee Free Choice Act, or Card Check, which has raged for months, has taken an interesting turn — straight through church doors.

At its heart, the EFCA eases union organization rules and, in theory, clears a path for organized labor to eliminate a secret ballot in elections on whether to unionize. Republicans and business leaders say union leaders will use the open voting process to intimidate workers they know oppose unionization.

Rev. Daniel Klawitter, a member of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice in Colorado, speaks to a group of about 20 people at the Christ United Methodist Church in Fort Collins.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Democrats and advocates of 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. They say it will level the playing field because business leaders currently are able to intimidate workers who favor unionization.

Republicans have been adamant in their position that the EFCA will harm businesses and make it harder for corporations to turn a profit. But church leaders in Colorado, including a handful in Fort Collins this week, disagreed, calling the proposed legislation “morally” the right thing to do.

“Although it is very important to feed the poor, it is also important to advocate for policies that keep people out of poverty in the first place,” Rev. Daniel Klawitter, of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice in Colorado, told a group of about 20 people at the Christ United Methodist Church. “As a person of religious faith, I support food banks out of a sense of charity, but I also support the Employee Free Choice Act as a way to be in solidarity with low-wage workers who live at the brink of poverty every day.”

Kevin Pape, a member of Working America, speaks during the Fort Collins event.
Photo by Jason Kosena
The Colorado Statesman

The meeting in Fort Collins, like most pro-EFCA meetings during the last few months, was attended mostly by people who already support the legislation. No minds were changed. However, after listing a number of pro-labor statistics about job satisfaction, wage rates and equality in pay among unionized companies, Klawitter told the congregated group that he believes the church has a larger role to play in promoting unions.

“Over 119 Colorado religious leaders have signed a letter of support when it comes to the Employee Free Choice Act,” Klawitter said. “I’m not here to say that unions are perfect. I’m not here to say the church is perfect. But I think there is plenty of evidence both historically and bibically to say that the labor movement and the church should be working closer together.”

Not everyone believes that supporting the EFCA legislation equates to moral behavior, however. Colorado Republican Chairman Dick Wadhams said the EFCA issue is not as complicated as some people make it out to be. Although Wadhams didn’t want to comment directly on the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice in Colorado, he did have critical words for the EFCA legislation.

“Card Check is nothing more than an attempt to eliminate the secret ballot in union elections that would open the door to worker intimidation by union bosses,” Wadhams said. “The unions want to take away the secret ballot so they can directly intimidate workers into unionization. That takes away the heart of what makes America great, which is secret ballots.”

Event attendees hold a candlelight vigil dedicated to workers in America who are not able to become union members.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

With or without the church’s support, the EFCA legislation has struggled to gain traction in Washington, D.C. Although it is expected to pass the House with ease, the Senate has offered a more difficult challenge. Both Democratic and labor leaders want 60 co-sponsors to sign on before they introduce the legislation on the floor, but they’ve been struggling to reach that magic number.

However, that could change by next month, when the legislation is expected to begin moving through Congress. If Minnesota’s Al Franken is seated by then and former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Spector, who switched to the Democratic Party last month, chooses to switch his stance on the legislation, 60 votes could be achieved.

During his 2008 campaign, Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, said he would support the legislation. However, Colorado’s newly appointed Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Denver, has yet to take a position on the issue. When the EFCA was introduced in Congress earlier this year, Bennet received a visit from Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, who promised him that a “no” vote on the bill would diminish his support for re-election in 2010.

On the other hand, the pressure — and promises — from the business community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been both clear and public, including vows of an expensive campaign blitz against Bennet in 2010, should he vote in favor the bill.

During his Fort Collins speech, Klawitter said special interests have a voice but so, too, should regular people who are affected by unions.

“If you feel like doing it, you should write our senators, or call them, and tell them that you support this legislation,” he said. “They need to hear from you. They need to hear your stories, and they need to understand why you feel this legislation is important.”

Jason@coloradostatesman.com