Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the much-maligned Republican who switched parties April 28th to become a Democrat, is promising union workers that they will "be satisfied" with how he votes on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
Sporadic hecklers at a union-sponsored rally in downtown Pittsburgh interrupted Specter on Saturday, saying they wouldn't support him unless he votes for EFCA, commonly known as "card-check."
As a Republican, Specter insisted he would oppose card-check. Since switching parties, however, he's wavered.
About 200 workers attended the rally, many waving signs that stated: "Free Choice Act – It's About Workers' Rights," and "Senator: We are all counting on you – Support the Employee Free Choice Act."
EFCA would eliminate the current requirement that a vote to unionize must come via secret ballot. Making the ballot public, opponents contend, would open the door to union intimidation. While union leaders dispute that, supporters and opponents agree that card-check would make it easier to unionize workers.
Specter acknowledged that his hopes of winning re-election depend on union support.
"I feel the pressure, and I feel the heat, and I know it," Specter said.
Specter reminded the workers that he was one of only three GOP senators to vote for President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package.
"I had a hell of a lot of heat and a hell of a lot of pressure from the Republican party… " he added, saying that he was "largely responsible" for the stimulus bill's passage.
He later reiterated, "The stimulus package … was passed because of my vote, my intervention."
Specter's speech was briefly interrupted when a worker began to shout from the crowd: "You want my vote, we want yours."
"I understand your job's on the line," Specter said.
"No, your job's on the line," the worker interrupted.
"I understand that," Specter acknowledged. Then he promised: "I believe you will be satisfied with my vote on this issue. And if you're not, I recognize your right in a free society, to cast your vote as you choose. But I think you will be satisfied with my vote on this issue about union organizing …. "
Leading Democrats expressed skepticism that they had the votes they needed to get the measure through the Senate – but Specter's support could change that.
Sen. Tom Harken, D-Iowa, the bill's Senate sponsor, recently said that Specter is "willing to negotiate" on card-check. Senators are trying to modify the proposal to make it more palatable.
U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., and state Rep. Bill Kortz are both expected to challenge Specter in the Democratic primary.
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