House passes ban on replacing strikers but falls short of veto-proof margin

July 18, 1991|By Kathleen Beeman | Kathleen Beeman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats won what could become a hollow victory yesterday with passage of a ban on permanent replacement of workers striking over economic issues.

Although the bill passed easily by a 247-182 vote, it fell short of the votes needed to override a presidential veto and faces stiff opposition in the Senate.

The measure would prohibit employers from what amounts to firing strikers by hiring their permanent replacements. The bill would correct a quirk in federal labor law under which employers cannot fire a worker who strikes legally but can give the striker's job and paycheck to a permanent replacement.

"We won a strong majority today," said David Salz, spokesman )) for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

"Obviously, we would have liked to have seen more votes."

A White House spokeswoman said yesterday that President Bush would veto any worker replacement measures presented to him. A two-thirds majority in the 435-member House and in the 100-member Senate is necessary to cancel a presidential veto.

To the relief of business lobbyists, the bill failed to garner enough votes to override a veto. Damon Tobias, a lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hailed the outcome as a "signal defeat for organized labor." All members of the Maryland delegation voted for the bill except Republicans Wayne T. Gilchrest, 1st District, and Constance A. Morella, 8th District, who voted against it.

The issue will now go to the Senate, where it is likely to find fierceRepublican opposition. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, has indicated the measure will be considered after Labor Day.

The proposed ban on replacement workers is one of the most emotionally charged labor-management issues to come before Congress in recent years. Some members complained that by pushing a bill that may not come close to becoming law, organized labor has simply forced a test of its support in Congress.

The bill "will not become law," said Representative Tom Ridge, R-Pa. "The leaders of labor will get their litmus test. But in the end, nothing but nothing will change."

Representative Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., was blunter.

"Today is dues day; everybody is paying their labor dues," said Mr. Gunderson, who opposed the bill. "We're here today because this is part of the 1992 campaign and some of my friends on this side of the aisle have some obligations."

Over the past decade, a number of big-name employers, including TWA, Continental and Eastern Airlines, and Phelps Dodge, International Paer and Greyhound, have hired striker replacements as a way of solving their labor disputes. Supporters of the bill are concerned that workers are losing the strike as leverage in labor negotiations.

"The most fundamental right of all working people is the ability to withhold their labor," said Representative Pat Williams, D-Mont., during debate. "The only reason we are here today is that the promise of the National Labor Relations Act is not being kept."

Temporary replacements during a strike are allowed under the House measure. But union workers would be allowed to return to their jobs once the dispute was resolved.

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