Dems take marching orders from Big Labor

In a rare clash with the state's business establishment, Sen. Mark Pryor on Wednesday said the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce has "probably exaggerated" claims about the impact of a controversial labor union bill to the state economy. Pryor, D-Ark., supports a measure to allow workers to form unions without secret ballot elections. The state chamber has made opposition to the pending "card check" bill one of its top priorities. Workers could sign authorization cards to join unions, thus making it much easier to unionize, employers maintain.

Pryor said the state group is taking its marching orders from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with its vocal assault on the bill.

The chamber overstates concerns that the bill, if approved, would stunt job growth in the Arkansas, he said.

"I think they're probably exaggerated, and I think the get a lot of this from the national organization," Pryor said. "I think the people in Arkansas are very common-sense. They're very hard-working. They expect when they work in a place to be treated fairly. Arkansas is a very good place to have a business."

The chamber leaned on Arkansas lawmakers to oppose the bill during a presentation at the chamber's 49th annual congressional dinner on Monday.

The card check bill is one of three major legislative issues championed by the chamber, said Kenny Hall, executive vice president of the group. It puts the union-endorsed measure beside health care and education as key priorities.

"What we really fear is that every small business in Arkansas would wind up unionized, and I don't see how that does not have an impact on the state economy," Hall said.

Card check likely will not come up for a vote in Congress this year. The bill cleared the House on a party-line vote in March 2007, but died in the Senate.

Pryor supported the bill last year. Like last year, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., remains uncommitted.

"I continue to hear from constituents on both sides and want to give supporters and opponents of the legislation an opportunity to weigh in as I consider the best approach to the issue," Lincoln said in a statement.

Pryor was the target of an anti-card check advertising blitz a year ago, funded by a national coalition that lists the state chamber and the Arkansas Hospitality Association among its membership.

"I think the national people are trying to rev up a lot of their local chambers all over the country on this issue," Pryor said on Wednesday.

Employers say they fear labor organizers may intimidate workers into joining unions without secret ballot elections.

Card-check supporters maintain that the intimidation comes from employers, who they say coerce their employees into voting against union membership.

Rep. John Boozman, R-Rogers, stands with the chamber on the issue. Both he and Hall said it is unfair to owners of medium-sized and small businesses for unions to organize in that manner.

"All it would take is six out of 10 employees to sign a card. That's a low bar for union organizers to cross," Hall said.

Pryor has said the bill is a first step toward modernizing American labor law.


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