The Employee Free Choice Act seemed destined to be a relatively narrow clash between unions and employers. But amid the economic downturn, it is turning into a debate over fundamental questions of American capitalism.
After years of girding for this fight, labor supporters and business groups are scrambling after the bill's reintroduction last week to adapt their long-established arguments to suit the crisis. For those opposed to the bill, which would make it easier to form unions, the new message was that it would be a disaster for businesses reeling from the recession.
"In a time when we have an economy that's already struggling, we can't put more burdensome regulations on employers," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). "This is a job killer for our economy when we really don't need it."
The bill's supporters are pointing to the downturn as the ultimate proof of their arguments that labor's decline has helped put the economy out of balance and that only by restoring workers' purchasing power can the nation return to broadly shared prosperity.