Harkin: Arlen Nearly Back on Board on Card Check

It seems there aren’t really any convictions Arlen Specter won’t sell in order to help him win reelection. According to his new colleague Tom Harkin, Specter realizes that he’s toast in a Democratic primary if he doesn’t kiss labor’s ring that he was wrong about Card Check:

A spokesperson for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the lead sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, confirmed today that an agreement is near that will allow Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) to return to his earlier position of support for the legislation.

Specter, originally a co-sponsor of the bill, announced on March 24 that he had switched to the opposition. At the time, as a Republican senator, he was under pressure from business lobbyists and right-wing Republicans lining up against him in that party’s coming primary election.

Since then he switched to the Democratic Party and today he signaled his willingness to switch back to the pro-union side on the Employee Free Choice Act. He said, “I’m opposed to giving up the secret ballot or mandatory arbitration, as they are set forth in the bill, but I do believe that labor law reform is past over due.”

Harkin confirmed, early this morning, that “Senator Specter’s staff and my staff have been working diligently over the last several days to get everything ready.”

Harkin was not specific about any particular compromises in the bill that he was willing to make. When a message was left on the senator’s answering machine, asking for confirmation of a Bloomberg news repot that giving up majority signup was a “possibility,” the Senator’s spokesperson quickly returned the call and insisted there would be “no compromise on any of the core principals.”

Majority sign-up is considered the heart of the bill because it would remove the choice of how to recognize unions – sign-up by a majority of workers or an election – from the employers, who now make that choice, and give it, instead, to the workers. By choosing union representation through majority sign-up workers reduce the ability of employers to harass, threaten and fire union supporters during a protracted election process…

A source in one of the building trades unions told the World, last week, for example, that senators were sent letters with the proposal that a box could be added to the majority sign-up card, asking the worker filling it out to check the box if he or she wanted the issue to be decided by secret ballot. Harkin’s office would not confirm whether this was one of the compromises discussed with Specter.
Harkin’s spokesperson said the senator will not budge on the “core principals of leveling the playing field in organizing drives, increasing penalties for labor law violators, and ensuring that once unions are recognized, employers must sign a first contract with them, either voluntarily or through arbitration.”

If this report is to be believed, Specter hasn’t driven a very hard bargain before signaling his support. While earlier compromise rumors suggested sponsors would drop the provisions eliminating a secret ballot and imposing mandatory arbitration, Harkin is discounting those possibilities. If Harkin is to be believed, Specter is signing onto a bill quite close to the one he opposed just a few weeks ago. Such a move might take the wind out of the sails of potential primary opponents, but it will give one more issue to use against him in the general election.

Further, it will put more pressure on red and purple-state Democrats like Jim Webb, Blanche Lincoln, Michael Bennet, and others. As long as Specter opposed Card Check, they could blame him for holding up the bill. If Specter signs on, they will face renewed pressure to put the unions ahead of their own reelection hopes.