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Senate GOP blocks union sign-up bill

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans have blocked organized labor's top legislative priority this year - a bill designed to make it easier for unions to organize workers at nonunion workplaces.

No issue splits the national parties more starkly than those involving organized labor, and the vote yesterday was no exception: All 50 Democrats stood behind labor, and among the 49 Republicans, only Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania broke ranks.

The resulting tally, 51-48, left the Democrats nine votes short of the 60 they needed to cut off debate in the Senate and bring a bill to a vote.

The House passed the bill, 241-185, March 1. That number in favor was 43 votes fewer than the two-thirds necessary to override the veto that could have been expected from President Bush.

The bill would have required employers to recognize unions if more than half of eligible workers signed union cards.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the derailed bill was written to help not workers but union bosses, who have watched helplessly as union membership in the United States has plunged, according to the Census Bureau, from 23 percent of the work force in 1983 to under 14 percent in 2005.

Under the bill, McConnell said, workers would be exposed to "coercion and intimidation by employers and union bosses alike."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and sponsor of the bill, argued that a rise in incomes of the rich - and a simultaneous drop in the well-being of the poor - coincided with a decline in union membership. He said that for the first time in American history, thanks to unions' loss of bargaining power, young men are earning less money than their fathers did at the same age.

Joel Havemann writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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