The early results are in from yesterday’s primary contests, and this morning’s talking points focus on the general anti-incumbent trend.  But others, including NAM’s ShopFloor.org, have also noted it was a "Tough Night for the Card Check Crowd."

Chief among the figures central to the long-winding evolution of the Employee Free Choice Act is five-term Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.  An original co-sponsor of the 2005 Act, Specter was long viewed as a crucial "bi-partisan" vote for EFCA in the whip count.  Sen. Specter consistently expressed a strong desire to see labor law reform addressed in this Congress. Yet he was also highly critical of EFCA (and the tenor of the related debate) in both a 2007 floor speech on the cloture motion and in a Policy Essay published in the Harvard Policy on Legislation.   Then, on March 24, 2009, Senator Specter made a pivotal floor speech, wherein he declared he would vote against cloture on EFCA as drafted.  In his speech, and in an attached Appendix to his remarks, he expanded further on the various alternative avenues of labor law reform he might support.

Senator Specter’s statement — and guaranteed protection of the filibuster — likely freed Democrats critical of the bill to state their opposition as well.  Just two weeks later, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) announced that she would not support EFCA as introduced.  Additional Democrat Senators soon too expressed reservations about the bill.

Then, in yet another interesting turn, in  late April, 2009, Sen. Specter announced that he was switching parties, and would run for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat.  At the time, he declared: "…my position on Employees [sic] Free Choice (Card Check) will not change."  But, as NAM notes today, just five months later, he told the Pennsylvania State AFL-CIO Convention:

We have pounded out an Employees Choice bill which will meet labor’s objectives. I believe before the year is out, and I will join my colleague Senator Casey in predicting, that there will be passage of an Employees Free Choice Act which will be totally satisfactory to labor.

Last night, Senator Specter suffered a substantial defeat in the Pennsylvania Democratic Party primary, losing to challenger Rep. Joseph Sestak (D-PA).  Is this really a rejection of EFCA by the voters as NAM suggests?  Maybe, but it also may be too early to tell as there were clearly a lot of other factors at work here.  It may be noteworthy that his challenger, the Democratic nominee, Rep. Sestak co-sponsored EFCA in 2007 and 2009, and voted for the measure in 2007 when it passed the House.  Interestingly, early in this Congress, he also intorduced an alternative labor law reform measure — the National Labor Relations Modernization Act (H.R. 1355).  This law would:

  1. provide for mandatory arbitration following a 120-day mediation period, if after an initial 120 days of bargaining failed to result in an agreement;
  2. increase penalties against employers (similarly to EFCA’s proposed changes); and
  3. require an employer to provide equal access to the employees to union organizers once an election is ordered.

No further action was taken on Rep. Sestak’s bill.

The other key figure mentioned above, Sen. Lincoln, appears to have narrowly finished ahead of her union-backed primary challenger Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D-AR), but will need to compete in a run-off with Halter come June.  Lincoln has consistently opposed EFCA, drawing the ire of labor groups and consequently, the primary challenge.  EFCA and organized labor were consistently more overt issues in this race, and to NAM’s point, Lincoln’s victory last night despite the anti-incumbent wave may be a better indicator of anti-EFCA sentiment than the Pennsyvlania result.