9/7/08

Democrat favors anti-democratic organizing law

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Senate candidates differ on secret-ballot

Two business groups that back U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole say the Republican’s stance on union-related issues are a key factor in winning their support. In particular, Dole opposes so-called card-check legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize by letting a majority of workers simply sign a union card rather than holding a secret election.

“I stand with you to oppose giveaways to union bosses, such as the card-check bill,” Dole told National Federation of Independent Business members when she accepted their endorsement in Greensboro.

State Sen. Kay Hagan, Dole’s Democratic opponent, does not offer a full-throated endorsement of the idea but is much more sympathetic to the union position. “It’s something that I am looking at favorably,” Hagan said during an interview with the News & Record’s editorial board.

Besides NFIB, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has weighed in on the race by airing an independent expenditure ad. Chamber spokesman D.J. Fiedler called the check-card legislation a “top-tier issue” for his group.

“We make our endorsements based on experience, records and mostly we make our endorsement based on who we think will benefit the business community,” Fielder said. “We want to be certain that workers continue to have secret-ballot elections in the workplace.”

This is an unfamiliar position for Hagan, a lawyer and one-time banker who has had a reputation as a business-friendly legislator. And Hagan has served in the N.C. Senate, a chamber seen as friendly to business interests and not overly sympathetic to union concerns.

In 2006 and 2007, Hagan received campaign donations from political-action committees representing Walmart; drug companies Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Merck; General Electric; Progress Energy; Bank of America; and Coca-Cola in addition to groups of economic developers, home builders, retailers and the like.

Fielder said the chamber does endorse Democrats, such as former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner , who is running for Senate there. He could not say exactly how the chamber made its selection but pointed out that Dole voted against the card-check bill the last time it was before the Senate. Meanwhile, he pointed to Hagan’s statement on the legislation as a concern.

Hagan and Dole disagree on other union-related legislation. Hagan, for example, says Congress should consider a bill that would give government workers the right to collectively bargain. North Carolina law prohibits that.

“I would look at having the collective bargaining process available if the employees so voted on that,” she said.

As with the card-check issue, Dole is unequivocally opposed to that idea.

“I think that would be a mistake,” Dole said. “Because if the federal government can tell the state to do that, what can’t they tell them to do?”

Hagan’s willingness to look at these issues has won her support among labor groups, including the Greensboro-based Teamsters Local 391.

“She and I disagree on some issues,” said Jack Cipriani , the president of the local who acknowledge that Hagan does have the profile of a politician one would think naturally appeals to union leaders.

But she has been willing to listen to his group’s concerns, Cipriani said, such as issues related to school bus drivers’ pay.

“Dole will not come to any of our meetings to even talk to us,” he said. “She’s never with us on any of our workers’ issues.”

The controversy over the card-check bill centers on whether unions would be able to pressure workers into joining, or whether the current system allows employers to bully workers into renouncing union membership.

“Most workers I talk to, and I think there are statistics that show this, do not want to have a vote that’s public where they just check a card because it then lends itself to pressure,” Dole said.

Hagan points out that North Carolina could remain a right-to-work state, allowing non-union members to be hired even in those workplaces where unions are active.

“If they don’t want to join a union, they’re not going to, obviously,” Hagan said. “I think right now we’ve got to make it on a level playing field.”

(news-record.com)

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