WASHINGTON - Intent on blocking organized labor's top legislative goal, corporations are quietly contributing to lobbying groups with appealing names like the Workforce Fairness Institute and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.
These groups are planning a multimillion-dollar campaign in the hope of killing legislation that would give unions the right to win recognition at a workplace once a majority of employees sign cards saying they want a union. Business groups fear the bill will enable unions to quickly add millions of workers and drive up labor costs.
The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a federation of 500 business groups, ran a full-page advertisement on Wednesday that sought to discredit the legislation, called the Employee Free Choice Act. The advertisement said that if secret ballots were good enough to elect Barack Obama then they should be good enough for union members, too.
Richard Berman, a Washington lobbyist, has created a business-backed group, the Center for Union Facts, that is planning to run millions of dollars' worth of television spots over the next few months to pressure moderate Democrats to oppose the bill.
During last fall's presidential campaign, groups opposing the legislation spent more than $20 million on television commercials in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and other states in an effort to defeat Democratic Senate candidates who backed the bill.
At a confirmation hearing set for Friday, Republican senators are expected to challenge Representative Hilda L. Solis of California, President-elect Obama's choice for labor secretary, over her support for the legislation.
Business leaders denounce the bill because it would largely eliminate secret-ballot elections to determine whether workers want a union. (The union win rate has traditionally been far higher through majority signups than elections.)
"If you know anything about politics, it is a game changer," said Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada. "It is a total game changer for the next 40 to 50 years if the Democrats are able to get this legislation that eliminates the right to a secret ballot. We are fighting it hard."