If Sen. Dianne Feinstein is susceptible to gong-accompanied incantations, then opponents of the union-bolstering bill currently wending its way through the U.S. Congress had best take warning.
Noon today marked the end of a 24-hour vigil organized by local labor groups to support the so-called Employee Free Choice Act
, a piece of federal legislation that proponents call the most significant pro-union measure to reach Washington in the last generation.
Starting on Wednesday, a group that, according to San Francisco Labor Council
executive director Tim Paulson, initially numbered about 150 gathered outside the San Francisco Federal Building on Seventh Street. Their avowed goal was to sway Feinstein -- who has yet to promise a yes vote on the bill -- to their cause.
Feinstein is certainly not alone in harboring reservations about the bill, which construes the idea of "free choice" in an unusual way. One of the act's more contentious provisions would allow labor organizers to scrap secret ballots among workers on whether to unionize in the first place, instead allowing them to form a union once a majority of employees have signed their names to a petition.
Without getting into the tall grass on this one, we'll just note that there's a reason secret ballots are used for most democratic rituals worthy of the name. Think about whether you'd like to elect your city's mayor by having one candidate's campaign staff going door-to-door gathering signatures. This ain't Republican fearmongering. Even George McGovern -- the former South Dakota senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee -- has slammed the bill because of its nakedly undemocratic (small "d") nature, citing the risk of workers being "pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated" into signing up by union toughs.
At any rate, that was before the gongs came out. As the vigil drew to a close today, an assortment of pro-labor clergy members performed an odd ritual in which they called on Feinstein to make various pro-union concessions, punctuating each demand with a coppery boing. Was this mysterious gang on its way to summoning newly Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, also among the bill's skeptics, from a magic lamp?
Truth be told, we didn't stick around to find out.