Tuesday, April 28, 2009

News & Analysis: Senator Arlen Spector's Switch to Democratic Party Offers Increased Probability Employee Free Choice Act Could Pass in U.S. Senate

U.S. Senator Arlene Spector, pictured above briefing reporters at the U.S. Capital building in February of this year, announced this morning he will become a Democrat, ending his many years as a Republican Senator from Pennsylvania. [Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla-Getty Images.]

The Employee Free Choice Act, Tesco's Fresh & Easy and Food & Grocery Retailing USA

Republican Senator Arlene Spector from Pennsylvania, a crucial swing vote in the U.S. Senate regarding the Employee Free Choice Act legislation that most likely will be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives this year and then voted on by the U.S. Senate, announced this morning he is changing parties and becoming a Democrat.

"Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right," Specter, 79, said in a statement this morning. "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."

Spector is in his fifth term in the U.S. Senate. Each Senate term is for a period of six years.

He faces a tough election for a sixth term next year, facing challengers from both the Republican and Democratic sides. That was before he announced today his switch to the Democratic Party.

Party-switching seldom a spur of moment decision

However, we suspect his changing parties wasn't done without consultation with Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and other top Democrats like Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, who heads up the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, the Senate Democrat's political arm.

Therefore, look for heavy Democratic support from these and other Democrat big guns for Spector's 2010 run in Pennsylvania as a Democrat.

Pennsylvania's other Senator, Robert Casey, is a Democrat.

Also look for the Republicans to put a big pot of money and lots of grassroots effort behind a Republican candidate in a challenge to Spector in 2010. It will be tough though for a Republican, particularly a conservative, to get elected to the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, as the state has trended Democrat and likes moderate Republicans, which is why its voters have given moderate Republican Arlene Spector five terms.

Senate leader Harry Reid welcomed Spector to the Democratic Party and Democrat Senate Caucus this morning with wide open arms, saying: "I welcome Senator Specter and his moderate voice to our diverse caucus. We have not always agreed on every issue, but Senator Specter has shown a willingness to work in a bipartisan manner, put people over party, and do what is right for Pennsylvanians and all Americans."

And Senator Chuck Schumer offered his two cents as well, saying: "Senator Specter is an effective, intelligent and moderate senator. We welcome him into the Democratic Party and our caucus in the Senate."

Senator Spector's switch to the Democratic Party and therefore to the Senate Democratic Caucus gives the Democrats 59 members, just one Senator shy of the magic 60-vote majority needed to prevent a fillibuster by Republicans on bills the Democrats want to pass, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, which is supported by Leader Reid, the majority of Senate Democrats, and President Barack Obama.

Employee Free Choice Act

The organized labor-advocated Employee Free Choice Act, often referred to as "Card Check," would among other things allow workers to merely check "yes" on a card if they want to be represented by a labor union at their non-union place of work, rather than going through the long "secret ballot" process that currently is a part of U.S. Labor law.

The proposed legislation also makes it much more difficult for employers to lobby employees against joining a union, which is something the employers are given ample opportunity to do under the current "secret ballot" method used by unions and workers to vote on union representation.

There's strong opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act among corporate America and small business. And all of the current Senate Republicans, as well as the vast majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, oppose the legislation.

As we reported in this story on April 13, 2009 [Analysis: Major Retailers Costco, Whole Foods Market and Starbucks Propose Employee Free Choice Act 'Third Way' Compromise; What About Fresh & Easy?] Spector announced he was switching his previous support in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act to a new position of being against the legislation.

Senator Spector was the only Senate Republican to vote in favor of the legislation in 2007. The Employee Free Choice was defeated in 2007, despite passing in the U.S. House of Representatives by a wide margin and winning in the Senate by a majority. The reason it was defeated in the Senate is because Senate Republicans fillibustered the bill and the Democrats didn't have to 60-votes needed to break the fillibuster.

President Bush opposed the legislation and said he would veto the bill if it passed the Senate. The 60 vote majority is needed according to Senate rules in order to override a Presidential veto.

President Obama voted for the Employee Free Choice as a Senate Democrat in 2007. He campaigned for President in 2008 in support of the legislation, and has said he will sign the bill if it is passed out of Congress.

We suspect Senator Spector's recently taken new position on the Employee Free Choice Act legislation just might have come up in talks with Senate Democratic leaders regarding his switch from Republican to Democrat -- and the deal-making that likely was a part of the switch -- although we can't confirm that.

Spector said at a press conference this morning that he still opposses the Employee Free Choice Act bill as written, saying that "it is a bad bill as currently written." The key phrase is: "It is a bad bill as currently written."

At a news conference later, Senate Leader Harry Reid was asked about Spector's continued opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) despite the Senator's switch to the Democratic Party. Reid made a point of saying that Senator Spector opposes the current "iteration" of the EFCA bill, then saying: "The bill will likely go through one or more iterations (read changes) when it gets to the Senate."

Our analysis is that Reid was signaling two things: That the current EFCA bill will be amended when it gets to the Senate from the House, and that now Democrat Senator Arlene Spector just might be willing to vote in the afirmative for a new "iteration" of the EFCA bill.

Spector wants to be Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. One of the things Reid said in the news conference that he agreed on with Spector was that is the former Republican switched parties he would be considered to have senority in the Senate from day one just as if he had been a Democrat all along. That's an unusual agreement to make. (Spector was actually a Democrat until he switched to the Republican party in 1965.)

Such seniority would be a prequisite for Reid in giving him Chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a position Arlene Spector wants dearly.

Therefore, since Spector is willing to switch parties because he knows he can't win in the 2010 Republican primary in Pennsylvania, the key reason he says he switched to the Democratic Party, it's not far-fetched to believe that the Senator might be willing to switch his vote again, in favor of a new "iteration" of the Employee Free Choice Act, particularly if being named to the Appropriation's Chair just happens to be a part of the bargain.

Assuming he gets relected next year as a Democrat, Spector will be 80-years old. He would like to finish out what will likely be his last term in the Democrat-controlled Senate as the chair of the powerful Senate Appropriation's Committee.

Would the Gentleman from Pennsylvania let his at present position on the Employee Free Choice Act stand in the way this year, especially since he voted for the legislation in 2007? We think not. Rather we think Senator Spector is one "iteration" (an amendment or two to the bill) away from a yes vote on the EFCA. And Leader Reid, who will be heading up the EFCA legislation in the Senate, said today an "iteration" or two to the current bill as it is written will likely happen.

Franken makes 60

Democratic Senator number 60 could be coming soon for Senate Democrats.

Last week Democrat Al Franken, the former comedian and talk show host, received positive news from a court in Minnesota regarding his disputed victory over Republican Norm Coleman in the November 2008 Senatorial election in the state. The court ruled in Franken's favor that his about 300-vote lead over Coleman, who was the state's incumbent Senator, is valid.

Coleman, who is no longer a U.S. Senator pending a resolution on the race, is appealing the court's decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the state's highest court.

However it's possible that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, could certify Franken as the winner before the Minnesota Supreme Court rules on the election, which would allow him to take the Senate seat.

In fact, many political observers in Minnesota have been saying that's likely to happen. But with Senator Spector's defection to the Democrats today, it's safe to say there will be added pressure on the Republican Governor from Minnesota, who is a GOP favorite to run for President in 2012, to hold off on certifying Franken, at least until the state's Supreme Court makes its ruling, either upholding the lower court's ruling in favor of Franken, or shooting the ruling down.

If Governor Pawlenty doesn't certify Franken, and the Minnesota Supreme Court upholds the lower court's ruling in favor of Franken --which the political and legal odds makers in Minnesota are currently betting will be the case -- the only recourse Coleman has is to then appeal the election to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Most U.S. Supreme Court-watchers are saying they doubt if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case. The court chooses the handful of cases it hears each term among many that are submitted to it.

Additionally, it's likely that if the Minnesota Supreme Court upholds the lower court's ruling in favor of Franken that the Governor will then certify Franken as the new Senator from Minnesota, since the court is that state's highest. Most doubt the Governor will want to go against the court's ruling if it upholds the lower court's opinion in favor of Franken because the potential negative political fallout from doing so could be significant.

And of course there's no guarantee that if Coleman does appeal such a ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he might not, that the court will even hear the case.

There's another potential factor at play. Democrat Senate Majority Leader harry Reid could if he wants seat Franken as the Senator from Minnesota, siting the state court's ruling that he is the winner of the race as ample reason to do so.

It not clear what would happen but we've been told that it's unlikely the Republicans could do anything to stop such a move. And that Franken could serve in the Senate starting right after such a move by Reid unless or until the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against the lower court's ruling, which would toss the election back into a stalemate with no winner.

Even 60 doesn't mean sure thing

The fillibuster-proof 60-vote majority for the Democrats, assuming Franken gets seated in the near future, of course assumes that all of the members of the Democratic Caucus, including its two Independents, will vote in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act bill when it comes before the U.S. Senate.

One Democrat, Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, has said she isn't sure she supports the legislation.

But it's still early. On the fence Senators like Lincoln can be persuaded.

And on the other side of the coin, other Democrat Senators from moderate -to- conservative states might decide to vote against the legislation, siting the poor economy as their primary reason for doing so. Of course, they are subject to deal making from the Democratic Senate leadership as well. Bucking the leaders isn't generally a good career move.

Further, moderate Democrats from conservative states might be concerned about voting in favor of the pro-organized labor legislation for political reasons, such as a fear of not being sent back to the Senate by their moderate -to- conservative constituents.

And this morning Senator Spector made a point of saying he isn't an "automatic 60th vote" for the Senate Democrats, signaling a continuation of his role in the U.S. Senate as a moderate swing vote as a Republican; a role often met with displeasure from his now former fellow Senate Republicans such as when he recently sided with Democrats, voting in favor of President Obama's nearly $1 billion economic stimulus package.

Good news to EFCA supporters: Spector back in play

But Spector's defection to the Democratic Party is overall good news to supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). His position of a couple weeks ago -- that he now is against the legislation although he voted in favor of it in 2007, the only Republican to do so at the time --will be much more malleable (to change back to his original position) now that he will be a member of the Democratic Party and Senate Democratic Caucus.

Additionally, we further suspect that if organized labor were to throw its support behind Spector in his 2010 bid for a sixth term in Pennsylvania, his position might become downright plastic, and he could do what isn't an unusual thing for elected officials to do, which is to change his mind and position once again, reverting back to his support of the Employee Free Choice Act as a freshly minted Democrat.

Being given an important committee chair by the Senate Democrat leadership, which we expect to happen, also could make Senator Spector's recent change from being pro-Employee Free Choice to against it, turn from plastic to down right making it melt away, thereby causing him to "see the light" and announce his support once again for the pro-organized labor legislation.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy

As we've reported and written about extensively in Fresh & Easy Buzz, the United Foods & Commercial Workers union (UFCW), which represents over 1 million unionized grocery store clerks in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, has been conducting a campaign to unionize Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's non-union store-level employees since late 2007 when the first Fresh & Easy markets were opened. The campaign intensified in 2008.

Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act with its "Card Check" provision, in which rather than going through a "secret ballot" election process employees would be able to check off a box on a card indicating they support a union at their place of work, would make it much easier for the UFCW union to organize Tesco Fresh & Easy store employees. In fact, the union is banking on passage of the Employee Free Choice Act in order to unionize Tesco's Fresh & Easy, along with other non-union chains like Wal-Mart.

Most of the major supermarket chains in California, Nevada and Arizona where Tesco has its 119 Fresh & Easy combination grocery and fresh foods stores, such as Safeway Stores' Vons and Safeway, Kroger's Fry's and Smith's, and Albertsons, are unionized.

Others retail chains that sell food and groceries like Tesco's Fresh & Easy, Wal-Mart, Costco, Trader Joe's, Target and a couple others are non-union.

The UFCW union, as we've previously reported, has backed off somewhat so far this year compared to last year, in its aggressive, multi-front campaign to unionize Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's store-level employees.

However, according to our sources, the union is planning to once again intensify its campaign to unionize the Fresh & Easy store workers in the coming months. That return to a more aggressive campaign will kick off when United Kingdom-based Tesco, which owns and operates Fresh & Easy USA, holds its Annual General Meeting (AGM) later this year in the UK.

We will have more on what the UFCW will be doing in an upcoming piece.

[Below is a selected, linked bibliography of past stories and posts in Fresh & Easy Buzz about the UFCW union's campaign to unionize store-level employees of Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market (and related issues, including the Employee Free Choice Act), which currently has stores in California (Southern and Bakersfield), southern Nevada and Metropolitan Phoeniz, Arizona, in the Western United States.]

>February 13, 2009: Labor & Food Retailing: Kroger Co. Chains Sign New Contract With the UFCW Union in Vegas; What Happened to the UFCW Tesco Fresh & Easy Campaign?

>November 10, 2008: Food Retailing & Organized Labor: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Gets Some Company as the UFCW Union Launches Campaign to Unionize Wakefern's PriceRight Banner

>November 4, 2008: U.S. Organized Labor, Including the UFCW Union, is Feeling Good Tonight About A President Obama and Stronger Democratic Majority in Congress

>October 28, 2008: The UFCW Union, Tesco's Fresh & Easy, U.S. Labor Relations, and Next Week's Presidential and Congressional Election

>October 2, 2008: Tesco Fresh & Easy Denies Huntington Beach Store Employees Request to Be Recognized As A Union Store; Next Step Likley to Be Open Ballot Election

>September 26, 2008: News & Analysis: Employees At Two More Fresh & Easy Grocery Stores Could Soon Request UFCW Union Recognition From Tesco's Fresh & Easy

>September 17, 2008: Store Workers at Huntington Beach Fresh & Easy Demand Union Recognition From Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market

>August 27, 2008: UFCW Union Reports Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's Prepared Foods Supplier to Labor Board For What it Says is Unfair Firing of Six Employees

>August 5, 2008: UNI Global Union Launches Tesco-Specific Alliance; Calls For Tesco Executives to Meet With UFCW Union Officials Over Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market

>August 4, 2008: Pico Rivera, California City Council Members Boycott Fresh & Easy Store Grand Opening; Mayor Attends But Delivers Pro-UFCW Union Message to Execs

>July 30, 2008: UFCW Union Flyers On His Door Knob Cause Heat in 'The Pragmatic Chef's' Mental Kitchen; Others Wondering About the Negative Campaign As Well

>July 3, 2008: July 3, 2008: Mid-Week Fresh & Easy Roundup: Fresh & Easy Gets Caught in A Land Use Dispute; Those Near-Famous Mixed Grill Packs; More On Manhattan Beach

>July 4, 2008: Breaking News: UFCW Union Strikes Again With Anti-Tesco Fresh & Easy Brochure Drop in Neighborhood Surrounding New Manhattan Beach Store

>July 2, 2008: UFCW Union Pickets Out in Force This Morning At Manhattan Beach Fresh & Easy Store Grand Opening

>June 30, 2008: Breaking News: UFCW Union Launches Preemptive Anti-Tesco Fresh & Easy Brochure Distribution Drop on the Eve of Manhattan Beach Store Grand Opening

>June 26, 2008: Tesco 2008 AGM: Barack Obama Sends Second Letter to Tesco CEO Requesting the Company Meet With U.S. UFCW Union Leaders About Fresh & Easy

>June 22, 2008: Vocal Cast of Critics and Advocacy Groups to Attend Tesco's Annual General Meeting On Friday, June 27

>June 4, 2008: News and Analysis: UFCW Union Takes its Tesco Union Organizing Campaign Across the Pond to the United Kingdom Beginning Today

>March 26, 2008: United Food and Commercial Workers Union Begins its Spring 2008 Organizing and Communications Campaign Directed at Tesco's Fresh & Easy

>February 11, 2008: Supermarket Union President Asks Britain's Prince Andrew to Arrange A 'Sit-Down' With Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Senior Executives

>December 30, 2007: UFCW Union to Organize Fresh & Easy Clerks in 2008

[Follow Fresh & Easy Buzz around on Twitter.com at www.twitter.com/freshneasybuzz.]

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