During the past few days a virtual parade of high-ranking Democrats have addressed the AFL-CIO constitutional convention to pledge support for organized labor and the Employee Free Choice Act.  President Obama, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have all spoken to the assembled union delegates.  Today, The Washington Post Capitol Briefing blog reports Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) delivered the most interesting message regarding the Employee Free Choice Act — namely, the conceptual contents of the revised bill which will be passed before year’s end:

After his speech, Specter detailed the revised bill he has been crafting with Senate Democrats, the rough outlines of which have been trickling out for weeks. The revised measure would not include the most controversial provision — allowing workers to organize by getting their co-workers to sign pro-union cards, instead of having to hold secret-ballot elections in the workplace. Unions argue that such elections are unfairly dominated by employer threats and intimidation, but the provision to drop the secret-ballot election has proved highly unpopular with conservative Senate Democrats.

Instead, Specter said, the bill would try to make union elections more fair by sharply limiting the time between organizers’ declaration that they have enough support to call an election and the day of the vote, to reduce the potential for employer intimidation. Organizers would also be guaranteed access to workers if employers held mandatory anti-union meetings on company time. And the penalties for employers who break labor law rules would be triple what they are today.

The bill would also tweak its other major element, which has gotten less attention but is also anathema to employers — mandatory arbitration for employers and unions who fail to reach a contract within a few months. As it stands, more than a third of newly formed unions never get a first contract and wither away, which is why labor supporters say mandatory arbitration is needed. But employers vigorously oppose having government-appointed mediators set contract terms. To allay employer concerns that unions would ask for the moon in hopes of the mediator splitting the difference, the revised bill would go with "last best offer arbitration" — the approach used in baseball arbitration, in which the mediator has to pick one offer or the other, which encourages the negotiators to offer a reasonable deal.

Specter told reporters that he was confident that this package would get the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster — and not one more. No Republicans would vote for the bill, he predicted, but he was sure that every Democrat would vote against a filibuster, including conservative Democrats who were very wary of the initial "card check" bill, such as Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) He said he had spoken with both of them and while they did not say so explicitly, he was left with the impression that they would help break a filibuster, if not vote for the bill itself.

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