The battle in Congress to allow unions to more easily organize continues. Democrats in the House and Senate introduced the Employee Free Choice Act, which allows unions to become automatically certified if they collect signatures from more than 50% of the employees. Although the House previously approved the Act and is expected to vote in favor during this Congressional session, the fight is in the Senate. There, the Democrats need 60 votes to end a likely filibuster by Senate Republicans. The Democrats hold 56 seats, and there are two independents.

However, approval in the Senate now appears more difficult. Democrats are waiting for the senate race in Minnesota to be resolved. Democrat Al Franken, currently ahead in the recount, and Republican Norm Coleman continue their fight in Minnesota’s courts. However, even if Franken becomes a senator, the Democrats need to hold on to all of their senators, the two independents and at least one Republican. This task appears harder, with news organizations reporting opposition to the current proposed legislation by Democratic Senators Diane Feinstein of California and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Importantly, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced that he would support a filibuster. He was one of three Republicans to vote in favor of President Obama’s stimulus package and he is running for reelection in 2010. Both Specter and Feinstein previously supported the Act.  

In the meantime, both management organizations and unions are publicizing their positions. Unions have held demonstrations in support of the Act from Cleveland to San Diego, including Specter’s home state of Pennsylvania, where he will be running for re-election. The Associated General Contractors of America, whose members include construction companies, has renewed its opposition to the Act. And, Joe Wurzelbacher (aka “Joe the Plumber”) has joined the efforts of a group called Americans for Prosperity by appearing at rallies in Pennsylvania against the Act. In the meantime, former TV president Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff appeared at a press conference in favor of the Act.  

According to Alan M. Kaplan, companies must take immediate steps to protect themselves from union organizing. Referring to the “Titanic Effect,” Alan warns companies and supervisors that most organizing occurs under the radar, a company first learning of organizing after the union has already received union membership cards from a majority of its employees. Therefore, all companies should implement a union-free workplace policy, ensuring that the company has created and maintained an “issue-free workplace” and informing employees that the company does not believe that unionization is advantageous to the employees. Although companies may include their views in an employee handbook, group and individual meetings as well as in employee communications, the National Labor Relations Board closely reviews the language used by supervisors and managers in these communications.