Sen. Blanche Lincoln is riding the fence on the “Employee Free Choice Act,” the sneakily named bill that labor unions are hoping to push through to reduce barriers to union organizing—and business leaders in Arkansas want to know why.
Speaking to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Lincoln told business leaders she “hadn’t made up her mind” about the proposed legislation, reports Charlie Frago of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but the audience wanted to know why the hell not:
At the chamber meeting at the Crowne Plaza in West Little Rock, AFCO Steel vice-president Deane Wallace vigorously shook his head from side to side while Lincoln spoke of her desire to continue to listen to both sides before making “a final decision” on the proposed act.
Before Lincoln finished her remarks, Wallace shot his hand up to ask the first question.
“How can there just be any question at all about giving an individual a right to a secret ballot ?” he asked.
Lincoln said she’s always supported “the right of workers to collectively come together,” but noted that the secret ballot has “always worked very well.”
Bob Shell, president of Baldwin and Shell Construction Co., stood up and said “when you talk about workers, that’s one thing. When you talk about union bosses, that’s another.”
Shell said that Arkansas is known as a right-to-work state that’s friendly to business. He said union leaders would intimidate workers into signing the cards authorizing a union.
“Ninety-five percent of [Arkansan workers ] are non-union. Seems to me that you’ve got the direction to go,” Shell told Lincoln. “Our state is nonunion and wants to stay that way.”
Earlier in the week, columnist John Brummett looked at Lincoln’s straddling of the issue to suggest that the vote would be one of Lincoln’s first tests in the newly minted Democratic Washington D.C. wonderland.
Last month, Gov. Mike Beebe made some statements in a CNBC interview to suggest that he sides with business on the question, suggesting that “now is not the time to do those things that hinder further business activity.”