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Specter Switches Parties: What Does It Mean For Labor Law Reform?

By Pat Garofalo  

"Specter Switches Parties: What Does It Mean For Labor Law Reform?"

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specterThe Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza is reporting that Sen. Arlen Specter is switching parties and plans to run in 2010 as a Democrat:

“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement…”Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

Specter’s departure is further evidence that Republicans in Congress have collectively lurched to the right, embracing radicalization and a preoccupation with non-issues like global currency. However, in a statement, Specter emphasized that “my change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans”:

Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.

Still, Specter’s switch may be a good sign for labor law reform. While Specter’s March announcement that he would oppose cloture for the Employee Free Choice Act dealt a significant blow to the bill’s chances of passing, going forward, his votes in this area are still going to be very important.

It’s worth remembering that Specter was the lone Republican senator to support EFCA in 2007. He has also been a vocal proponent of labor law reform. In a 2008 article for the Harvard Journal on Legislation, he argued that “union representation elections today are often conducted in an environment of intimidation and coercion, and federal labor law provides toothless remedies that fail to deter further abuses by union organizers and employers alike”:

We embrace the conclusion of scholars who contend that “what we need is major surgery on the legal procedure through which employees make their choice about union representation.” The most critical focus of this reform should be protecting the right of employees to freely choose whether they wish to be represented.

So even if Specter is still opposed cloture for EFCA in its current form (and who knows what political constraints he may find himself free of now), he has admitted that the system for forming a union is broken. Furthermore, he may find it very difficult to run in union-heavy Pennsylvania as a Democrat without supporting some sort of labor reform. Does this mean that there is an EFCA compromise in the works?

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