Collectivist Congress terrifies U.S. employers

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
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Local businessman and political activist Lane Grigsby sounded more than a little concerned in the days after the Democrats’ big victories on Nov. 4.

“It’s not frightening, it’s terrifying,” Grigsby says. “The [incoming] administration has no appreciation of small businesses in America. They have been elected by special-interest groups which are contrary to small businesses.”

Namely, unions.

Grigsby’s pet issue is the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the “card check” bill. The measure would force employers to accept the majority card-check option for union recognition, rather than demanding an election by secret ballot.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

By all accounts, the measure would make it easier for unions to organize a work place, and it’s just one previously stalled measure that may see new life in the next Congress. Grigsby worked to defeat U.S. Rep. Don Cazayoux, who lost to Act opponent Bill Cassidy, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, an Act co-sponsor who was re-elected.

Democrats have so far picked up six seats in the U.S. Senate for a 57-40 edge, a number that includes two independents who usually vote Democratic. Three Senate races have not been decided. Incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss is favored to hold off Democrat Jim Martin in a Dec. 2 runoff in Georgia. Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman is mobilizing for a recount to confirm what is currently a 206-vote victory over Democrat Al Franken. And Alaska Republican Ted Stevens leads Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich by 3,257 votes—but with more than 29% of the vote yet to be tallied.

Before the election, Democrats were hoping to control 60 seats, which would allow them to break any Republican filibusters and push through their most controversial measures, such as EFCA. A Democratic majority in the high 50s matched with a Democratic president and a bigger House majority could be almost as powerful, especially if they can sway a few moderate Republicans.

“We’re going to try to go to some of the centrist Democrats and explain to them that if they pass card check, they are doing away with the right to work in the United States of America,” Grigsby says.

Jason Engels, a former LSU football player and an official with the Louisiana Carpenters Regional Council, took exception to Grigsby’s election-season crusade, which went beyond specific candidates and issues to portray unions in general as violent and corrupt through a Web site and a series of fliers mailed to voters.

“Obviously, Mr. Grigsby is more concerned about self-interest and politics than he is his employees, or any employee for that matter,” Engels says. “It’s absurd, really, to portray us as thieves and mobsters, when all we’re trying to do is protect the workers.”

Engels says his 3,000-member union is bipartisan, but put its money and support behind Landrieu and Cazayoux in large part because of their support for the Employee Free Choice Act and greater labor protections in international trade agreements.

“We’ve lost about 7 million jobs over the last few decades; 50% of the American manufacturing capacity is now overseas. That affects laborers as a whole, not just the carpenters and millwrights,” he says.

Grigsby also threw some support behind independent Michael Jackson, who opposes EFCA. Jackson siphoned off votes from Cazayoux, arguably costing the incumbent the election. How much impact Grigsby actually had, if any, is debatable, but David Denholm, president of the anti-union Public Service Research Council, gave Grigsby partial credit for one of the few Republican bright spots of the election. Denholm says Grigsby’s harping on Cazayoux’s support for the EFCA might have made a difference. “This information may be useful in discussions with conservative Democrat members of Congress,” Denholm said in an e-mail to supporters.

“What conservative Democrats? Where have they gone?” asks Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere. After a moment, he named Rep. Charlie Melancon as a relatively centrist Democrat who might be worth pressuring on some business issues. Melancon voted for EFCA.

Villere sounds every bit the alarmist, arguing Barack Obama is the most liberal candidate ever elected president. “Socialism, which hasn’t worked anywhere, is now going to be tried in the United States,” he says. “The next couple years for business people are going to be very tough.”

“If anything, [business owners] should be excited and optimistic about some of the changes they’re going to see in policy that are going to help them,” Louisiana Democratic Party spokesman Scott Jordan says. “Nobody’s going to get a tax increase who makes less than $250,000 a year, which covers the vast majority of small-business owners.”

Jordan also highlighted Obama’s plans to give a $3,000 new jobs tax credit for new hires in 2009 and 2010, exempt investments in small business startups from capital gains taxes and offer small business owners a tax credit for up to 50% of the premiums they pay for employee health benefits. And while national reports suggest Democrats will try to push for the EFCA early on as “payback” for union support, Jordan has his doubts.

“I just think there are lots of bigger fish to fry,” he says.

“There’s a lot of issues the business community sees as opportunities with the Obama administration, especially with the current state of the economy,” says J.P. Fielder, spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “But there is great concern here in the business community on the Employee Free Choice Act, and that’s certainly the issue where we would draw a line in the sand.”

The chamber has made a number of specific recommendations to stimulate the economy, including more rebate checks to taxpayers and a reduction of the corporate capital gains tax rate to 15%. With new leadership comes new opportunities to find common ground on issues like health care or climate change, Fielder says.

“A lot of people in the business community are very optimistic about this new administration,” he says. “Because the bottom line is we didn’t get a lot of issues dealt with in the last couple years.”


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