Business groups see victory over unions in Sen. Lincoln’s primary victory

Business groups opposed to “card-check” legislation declared victory after Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s win in a Democratic primary in Arkansas.

Unions had worked hard to defeat Lincoln, who opposed legislation that would have allowed unions to form if a majority of members signed cards indicating their intention of wanting union representation. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) was the No. 1 issue for unions in this Congress.

ADVERTISEMENT
“A massive investment on the part of union bosses, which they will not be able to duplicate in other races, resulted in a loss for Big Labor’s poster-child candidate, producing a general election where both nominees will oppose [EFCA],” Katie Packer, director of the Workforce Fairness Institute, boasted in a statement.

Lincoln eked out a victory with 52 percent of the vote over Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), who won 48 percent. Labor groups had spent around $10 million to unseat the centrist senator, who had angered unions over her opposition to the card-check bill, as well as the public option in healthcare reform.

The move pitted labor, usually a Democratic constituency, against the party establishment, which had backed Lincoln as the better general-election candidate against challenger John Boozman, a Republican congressman in the state.

Despite the loss Tuesday night, union officials said they had no regrets and no plans to change course and back away from other primary challenges of incumbent Democratic lawmakers who have strayed from labor’s agenda.

“There is a certain desire among labor leaders to do more of this, not less. This was not a one-shot deal,” said one union consultant.

The Service Employees International Union has already committed to not backing Lincoln in her general-election race.

On Tuesday, before the results came in, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka hinted that his federation may follow suit, but that the state’s union members would ultimately decide on whether to endorse Lincoln.

Voter anger is high this election year, and labor leaders may want to harness the anti-incumbency mood among union members as well.

“The mantra of ‘Let’s teach them a lesson’ is better at securing contributions from members,” said the consultant.

ADVERTISEMENT
Halter had dodged questions on EFCA throughout the race, despite his heavy union backing. While there is a sizable labor movement in the state, it is also the headquarters of companies like Wal-Mart, which has fought back against unionizing its employees.

Glenn Spencer, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, said the millions labor groups spent could not earn the support of their chosen candidate for EFCA.

“It wasn’t enough to get a firm ‘yes’ from Bill Halter. It showed just how unpopular the bill is,” Spencer said. “This is a big setback for them. They went all in and came up short.”