As a U.S. senator from Illinois, Barack Obama was a sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, and as a candidate for president, he promised to sign it into law.
The proposed legislation would have made it easier to win bargaining rights for unions.
Right now, unions ask workers to sign cards saying they support the union. If they get 30 percent of workers to sign cards, it usually goes to a secret-ballot election. Under the proposed law, if unions get 50 percent of workers to sign cards, the union would win automatically, without a secret-ballot election.
Not surprisingly, the proposal faced tough opposition from the business community from the outset.
When we last checked on President Barack Obama's pledge to sign the Employee Free Choice Act in May, 2009, supporters were still upbeat about its chances of being enacted, working on a compromise that they hoped would win over enough supporters to create a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. But that never happened.
"We had the votes in the House, but we couldn't get the 60 votes we needed in the Senate," said Bill Samuels, legislative director for the AFL-CIO. The bill died at the end of the last Congress and faces overwhelming odds now that Republicans control one chamber. "It's highly unlikely with a Republican House," said Samuels of the bill's prospects.
"Don't attribute it to the president," Samuels said of the bill's failure to move forward. It was the Senate that doomed the bill's chances, he said. Several Democratic senators opposed the bill's main feature, the card check provision which would have allowed union representation without an election
"EFCA has not been introduced in this Congress and even if it were, it would not be brought up in either the House or the Senate. Even if it were brought up, it would not have the votes to pass in either the House or the Senate," said Mike Eastman, executive director of labor policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"There was talk of a revised bill before the fall elections, so it all depends if the Democrats and Independents can build off what happened in Wisconsin and motivate their base and those new voters that came out to the polls in 2008 but stayed home in 2010," said Kate L. Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University in an e-mail. "(B)ecause that is the coalition that supports workers rights and will vote for candidates who support organizing and collective bargaining rights."
Republican Gov. Scott Walker's attempts in Wisconsin to take away collective bargaining rights from many state employees resulted to renewed activism by union supporters, which was echoed in other states.
"Who knows, they might even come up with something better..." Bronfenbrenner wrote. "But there is a long road from here to there."
Maybe the next Congress will be more inclined to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. But even a Congress more favorably disposed to working with the president on this issue failed to deliver.
With Republicans in control of the House, it's clear we won't see a presidential signing ceremony for the Employee Free Choice Act in this administration, so we're moving it to Promise Broken.