Obama Still Pushing For Union Organizing Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama told labor leaders Monday he remains committed to passage of legislation making it easier to form unions, but he did not offer any timeline.

Obama made the comments at a White House meeting with top union officials who reassured the president they are united on health care and labor reforms despite internal rifts within the labor movement.

The Employee Free Choice Act -- also known as "card check" -- has been stalled for months as lawmakers work out a compromise that can satisfy several wavering Democrats. The union bill needs 60 votes to defeat an expected GOP filibuster in the Senate.

"We believe his commitment to that is as strong now as it ever was," said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. "He said he will work with us to get this done."

Obama met for about an hour with the National Labor Coordinating Committee, a group that includes the two big labor federations -- AFL-CIO and Change to Win -- along with leaders from 11 major unions representing 16 million workers.

Union leaders also told Obama they want a health care plan that requires employer participation and creates universal coverage without taxing benefits.

While union officials hoped to exert some influence on the president, the broader goal was to present a unified labor front and let Obama know the unions want to help the White House achieve its goals. Even if the union organizing bill is labor's top priority this year, leaders appreciate that passage of health care reform sits atop Obama's agenda.

A White House statement called the meeting "a productive conversation about shared priorities like creating jobs, health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act."

The seating of Minnesota Sen. Al Franken last week -- giving Democrats 60 votes -- was expected to hasten compromise talks on the union organizing bill. But hopes that the bill could get a vote before the August recess are fading as lawmakers struggle through health care reform and business groups continue to pour millions of dollars into their efforts to kill the union bill.

The measure would allow employees to form a union as soon as a majority of workers signed a card supporting it. Businesses say that would let unions bully workers into signing cards, but labor officials contend that current law allows employers to intimidate workers for weeks with firings and threats before secret ballots are cast.

Katie Packer, executive director of the Workforce Fairness Institute, predicted lawmakers would not support legislation "that eliminates the secret ballot and forces government-mandated contracts on small businesses and employees without their consent."

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