Dispatch-Argus: Hare will take prominent role in debate on pro-unions bill
Debate on a bill to boost labor's ability to organize workers, expected today, will offer a key platform for a former union local president, U.S. Rep. Phil Hare of Rock Island.
It will be the first time Rep. Hare, a Democrat elected last fall in the 17th Congressional District, will take a prominent role on legislation before the House of Representatives.
The bill, titled the Employee Free Choice Act, was expected to pass the House today, though the margin was unclear going into the debate. Prospects in the Senate are less certain.
The bill would allow workers to organize a union through the use of signed cards, without an election. Currently it is up to the employer to decide whether to accept cards or the results of an election, a system unions say gives employers the opportunity to intimidate workers into voting against joining a union. The bill also would increase penalties for employer labor law violations.
Rep. Hare joined Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., other Democrats and union activists at a Wednesday news conference in support of the bill. He was to appear on the CSPAN cable network this morning to take phone callers' questions, and later he was to participate in the debate on the House floor.
For Rep. Hare, the legislation is personal. He attributes much of his success in life to the representation by UNITE HERE Local 617 at Seaford Clothing Factory in Rock Island, where he worked for 13 years as a lining cutter. He ended up heading that local before a 23-year career as the district director for retired Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island.
Rep. Hare, who campaigned in support of the bill, said Wednesday that America's economy would prosper if the union movement were invigorated.
"I believe the fundamental root of this middle class squeeze is directly related to the decline of union membership," he said.
He cited AFL-CIO estimates showing some 60 million workers would favor union representation. Currently about 15.4 million workers, or 12 percent of the workforce, belong to unions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a decline from 20.1 percent in 1983.
Rep. Hare defended the bill against criticism that it will let unions pressure workers to join.
"Above all, it restores fairness to the employees themselves by letting the employees themselves decide if and when they want to join a union," he said. He added that he has yet to get any calls from within the district urging him to vote against the bill.
Some 233 lawmakers have signed on to the bill, a number well above the 218 needed to pass it in the House.
All of the 10 Democratic Illinois representatives have signed on to the bill, while none of the state's nine Republicans have signed on.
Iowa's three Democratic congressmen are listed as co-sponsors, while neither Iowa Republican congressman has signaled their support.