WASHINGTON — A bill that would have allowed labor unions to organize workplaces without secret-ballot elections was blocked from consideration last week. The legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, had been fiercely opposed by the baking industry and the business community.
With a final vote of 51 to 48, Senate Democrats were unable to gather the 60 votes needed to force consideration of the bill. While the bill was passed in the House of Representatives in March, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell had said for months that he would impede the legislation.
He said the bill was written to help union bosses and not workers, citing data indicating union membership in the workforce had plunged over the last generation from 23% in 1983 to 14% in 2005.
"Defeating this bill is a victory for all baking industry employees, and the American Bakers Association thanks those senators who voted to protect the right to privacy for the American workforces," said Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the A.B.A. "The tremendously broad response by bakers across the nation sent a resounding message to senators that this kind of politically motivated legislation will not be ignored by the watchful eye of the business community."
The bill would require employers to recognize unions after being presented union cards signed by a majority of eligible workers on their payrolls. Under current law, a company is able to require a secret-ballot election supervised by the federal government after being presented with the union cards.
In the Senate vote, every Republican except for Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voted to kill the bill. On the other side of the aisle, every Democrat voted in favor of the bill except for Tim Johnson, who continues to recover from brain surgery after suffering an intracerebral bleed. Independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont also voted in favor of the proposal.
In addition to the jettisoning of the secret ballot, bakers objected to provisions of the bill that would have required compulsory arbitration of first contracts.
According to the Independent Bakers Association, the secret-ballot requirement helps prevent coercion of workers by unions. The I.B.A. described the bill as "big labor’s top legislative priority this year."
"This a key victory," said John Popp, chairman of the I.B.A.
Senate Democrats said they have not given up on the issue.
"We will keep coming back year after year after year," said Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.