The U.S. Senate on Tuesday effectively killed any chance of further immediate action on so-called card-check legislation when the bill failed to carry a cloture vote that would have cut off debate on the proposal.
Hollywood talent guilds were pushing for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow employees to join unions by signing authorization cards instead of holding a certification election.
The WGA was particularly interested in the bill following its failure to win guild status for strikers at "America's Next Top Model." The striking writer-producers lost their jobs after seeking to join the WGA after being forced by producers to navigate a National Labor Relations Board process lengthy enough to allow a staff reorganization eliminating their posts.
SAG, AFTRA and the DGA also supported the bill. Management-side groups in Hollywood, including the MPAA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, declined to take positions.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was the bill's chief proponent. But Kennedy also numbers among the Senate leaders pressing for a vote on a high-profile immigration bill, and floor debate on the labor-reform bill was stymieing its progress.
So the Democrats opted for a cloture vote on the labor bill to end filibustering. With 60 votes needed to cut off floor debate, only a 51-48 vote was mustered.
Notably, a similar vote also would fail to override a threatened presidential veto of the labor-reform bill. Yet the level of support did indicate a likelihood that a similar bill will be resurrected if Democrats retake the White House, proponents suggest.
In any event, Senate leaders were able to signal significant support of the labor reforms while at the same time accepting the practical outcome of having to pull the bill to focus on immigration matters.
WGA West, WGA East and SAG issued a joint statement that called the cloture vote "a landmark achievement that demonstrates, for the first time in a generation, the majority of the Congress has voted in support of workers' essential rights to form and join unions."
The guilds added: "Senate procedural rules and the political process may have prevented an up-or-down vote in support of S.1041 for now, (but) we will continue to support this important legislation that should be enacted to empower workers with both a free choice and a fair chance by leveling the playing field between employer and employees."
Kennedy also put a brave face on the vote.
"The American people spoke up -- loudly and clearly -- in the last election, saying they want a Congress that stands up for working families," he said after the vote. "The Employee Free Choice Act is exactly the kind of bold action they were calling for.
"It is a key part of the Democratic plan to help the struggling middle class and restore the economic security that has been lost during the Bush years," he said. "(And) although we were blocked today, we will not give up, and we will not give in. I can promise that we will be back."
Opponents argued that secret NLRB elections are needed to prevent workers from being coerced into joining unions.
"The proposed legislation is a direct attack on one of the most basic tenets of our democratic process, which is why it is opposed by a majority of American workers," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an opponent of the proposed act. "My concern is (that) if enacted, this measure would expose workers to intimidation and the fear of retaliation for votes cast."
Business groups also put out statements Tuesday slamming the bill, which was approved by the House in a 241-185 vote March 1.
Carl DiOrio writes for The Hollywood Reporter.
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