Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., told a Monday meeting of the Little Rock Political Animals Club that she will oppose the Employee Free Choice Act.
"While I may not have been clear about my position in the past, I am stating today that I cannot support Employee Free Choice Act in its current form and I can’t support efforts to bring it to Senate consideration in its current form," Lincoln said in a statement late Monday afternoon.
"I will consider alternatives that have the support of both business and labor but my pledge today is to focus my full attention on the priorities I have mentioned that affect every working family in Arkansas."
The measure, better known as the "card check" bill, has been fought by business groups and championed by labor, after intense lobbying by both factions.
"I cannot support that bill," Lincoln said, according to one attendee. "Cannot support that bill in its current form. Cannot support and will not support moving it forward in its current form."
The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act to allow certification of a union if a majority of workers signed cards naming the union as their representative. The Free Choice Act has other important provisions, including tougher penalties on employers who are deemed to have engaged in unfair labor practices. But it does not require a secret ballot election.
Ricky Belk, secretary-treasurer of the Arkansas AFL-CIO, said Lincoln informed the union of her decision early Monday. Lincoln's decision did not come as a surprise, he said.
"My initial thought and response would be one of disappointment, because is is a right of workers that is needed," Belk said.
The Employee Free Choice Act would allow power to shift from corporations to workers, a shift that is needed considering the current economy, he said. About 80,000 Arkansans are members of unions, though not all are associated with the AFL-CIO, he said.
"We as unions will continue to encourage Lincoln to support a worker's write to form and join a union," Belk said.
The National Federation of Independent Business, an opponent of the bill, commended Lincoln for her decision. Dan Danner, president and CEO of the organization, said in a released statement that the "NFIB is grateful to have her support on this critical issue for small businesses."
Lincoln has been closely watched for her decision on whether to support the measure. Observers have said her vote on the matter would have a significant impact on the 2010 election.
Lincoln's Full Statement on Card Check, Issued Late Monday
"During my remarks today, I outlined the priorities that I’m focused on to get Arkansas and our nation back on track economically. They are job creation, health care reform, energy reform, investment in public education and tax cuts for middle class working families.
"Even though the Employee Free Choice Act is not on this priority list, it is receiving a lot of attention in the news and is the focus of many of my conversations with constituents on both sides of the issue. I consider both the labor and the business communities to be my friends. However, now that we need all hands on deck, including business and labor, to get our economy moving again, this issue is dividing us.
"While I may not have been clear about my position in the past, I am stating today that I cannot support Employee Free Choice Act in its current form and I can’t support efforts to bring it to Senate consideration in its current form. I will consider alternatives that have the support of both business and labor but my pledge today is to focus my full attention on the priorities I have mentioned that affect every working family in Arkansas."