The U.S. Senate showdown over the Employee Free Choice Act just got a little tougher: Arkansas Dem. Blanche Lincoln has gone on record saying that the EFCA "isn't necessary, bringing the number of "yay" Senators down to 57, three short of the 60 needed to prevent a filibuster.

The EFCA would allow unions to represent workers by getting sign-up cards -- "card check" -- as opposed to drawn-out elections in which companies frequently subject workers to harassment and intimidation, the recent battle at Smithfield Foods in North Carolina being a sharp example.

Over 60 million employees say they'd join a union if they could, but workers are subjected to almost relentless attacks during union organizing campaigns:

  • 30% of employers fire pro-union workers.
  • 49% of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union, but only 2% actually do.
  • 51% of employers coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism.
  • 82% of employers hire high-priced unionbusting consultants to fight union organizing drives.
  • 91% of employers force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors.

As Matthew Yglesias points out, the Arkansas Senator's ambivalence towards unions might have something to do with the largest company headquartered in her state:

After all, non-union Arkansas is a bastion of prosperity! Well, actually, no, it's poverty-stricken and features ultra low wages. But guess who likes low wages? Wal-Mart. And guess who loves Wal-Mart? Arkansas politicians like Blanche Lincoln.

The Center for Responsive Politics shows that Sen. Lincoln has indeed been a direct beneficiary of Wal-Mart's political largesse, with donors associated with the company giving Lincoln over $35,800 in her career.

Lincoln has also received $44,000 from Tyson Foods, the poultry giant with its own checkered record of worker abuses and hostility to unions.

Workers in Arkansas could use more unions. Arkansas has the 5th-highest rate of poverty in the country. The state's median income ranks 48th in the nation; only Mississippi and New Mexico are lower. Per capita income ranks 48th in the nation. Nationally, the "union advantage" that results from having a union is about a 12% boost in wage levels.