Changes to the country’s labor laws to strengthen the power of unions inched closer to reality on April 28, 2009. On Tuesday, Republican Senator Arlen Specter announced that he would run in the Democratic primary to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate. If Al Franken wins the still-contested election in Minnesota, the Democrats will have 60 votes in the Senate. If all 60 senators vote to end a threatened Republican filibuster against the Employee Free Choice Act (a “cloture vote”), the full Senate will vote on the law. Since a majority of the senators support the law, the Employee Free Choice Act will pass, strengthening the power of unions to organize workers.

The question is whether Senator Specter will be one of those 60 votes. In his announcement on April 28, he stated that “My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employee Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.” However, Senator Specter was one of the co-sponsors of the Act when it was first introduced.

In addition, to win re-election, he will need the support of organized labor, especially in Pennsylvania where organized labor has staged protests and demonstrated in favor of the Act.  

According to Alan M. Kaplan, whether the Democrats have all 60 votes for cloture of a filibuster is still in doubt, because several Democratic senators have expressed opposition to the Act, including Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Diane Feinstein of California. Therefore, although EFCA, in its present form, may not pass, Alan predicts the enactment of major changes to the laws on organizing. Companies need to respond now to these coming changes by taking important steps to ensure that their companies remain union-free. These steps include the training of supervisors, the enactment of needed anti-union policies and planning to fight union organizing petitions if and when filed.