Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A labor & employment civics lesson

Today brings us two interesting posts detailing employment law issues to consider on election day. Michael Moore at the Pennsylvania Labor & Employment Blog and Dan Schwartz at the Connecticut Employment Law Blog both nicely summarize some of the key employment law issues that the next president might face.

If you are interested in a decidedly pro-business take on some of these issues, you should also take a look at website of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has detailed information on a variety of workplace issues, including:

As we consider some of the more controversial of these initiatives (such as the Employee Free Choice Act), it’s important to remember that a President is but one piece in a complex governmental puzzle. Currently, if you count the two Independent Senators that caucus with the Democrats, the Dems hold a slim 51-49 lead in the Senate. Assuming that Senators Lieberman and Sanders continue to caucus on the left, nine current seats would have to change from red to blue for the Dems to reach the magic number of 60. Recent polling data suggest that the Democrats will certainly get closer to 60 than they are now, but it should prove very difficult to get over that hump.

Why is 60 such an important number? Because that is number needed to make the Democratic majority filibuster-proof. A filibuster is where a senator, or a series of senators, speak for as long as they want and on any topic they choose on the Senate floor. By way of example, Strom Thurmond once spoke for more than 24 straight hours to try to block passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Practically, a filibuster permits one or more senators to derail a vote indefinitely, unless a supermajority (that magic number, 60) invokes cloture, which brings the filibuster to an end.

Because a filibuster poses such a huge risk, its threat is usually enough to derail controversial legislation without the support of at least 60 senators. Thus, if the Democrats don’t reach 60 (or even 58, depending on the inclinations of the two Independents), a Republican minority should be able to block controversial issues such as the Employee Free Choice Act.

On election night, while we watch the states change to red or blue on the electoral college map, it is equally important to follow some of the close Senate races. Without understanding both, one cannot truly decipher what the employment law landscape will look like after January 20, 2009.