No way out

The Employee “Free Choice” Act has placed Senator Arlen Specter in a very uncomfortable position. If he votes for legislation that makes it possible for unions to represent employees in a bargaining unit without winning a secret-ballot election, he greatly increases the likelihood that he will be defeated in a Republican primary next year. If he votes against the bill, organized labor (a powerful force in Pennsylvania) will use every method at his disposal to ensure his defeat in the general election. No invocation of Scottish law can assist Specter this time.

According to the Washington Times, however, the AFL-CIO is offering Specter a way out. Specifically, it says it will cause union members to switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party for the purpose of voting for Specter in the 2010 primary. That way, the theory goes, he can vote for the pro-union legislation, hold off his challenger in the primary, and remain viable in the general election.

I doubt that Specter is terribly impressed with this offer. One should never underestimate the power of unions to cajole and/or coerce workers into doing their bidding — that’s one reason to oppose the Employee “Free Choice” act. But it’s far from clear that large numbers of union members will go to the trouble of switching their party register at the snap of organized labor’s finger.

Moreover, to the extent that Republicans begin to see union members switching pursuant to a deal with big Labor, Specter’s hope of maintaining the support of rank-and-file Pennsylvania Republicans may well vanish. A misguided vote on a fundamental issue like this is bad enough; word of a “corrupt bargain” would be far more damaging.

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