This was a vote on a motion to table (kill) an amendment that dealt with the “right-to work” issue, which was offered to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 by Sen. DeMint (R-SC). A number of states have passed “right-to-work” laws, which make it illegal for a business and a union to agree to require that the business will hire only union labor, or that non-union employees will be required to pay union dues. DeMint’s amendment would have established a national “right to work” law. The bill to which the amendment was offered dealt with the statue of limitations for wage discrimination suits.
Sen. DeMint noted the subject of S. 181 and, referring to his amendment, argued that “(O)ne of the biggest forms of discrimination in this country today is when we force an American worker to join a union (as can occur under federal law in states that have not adopted right to work laws).” He acknowledged that “(S)tates can pass a right-to-work law . . . but this has proved very difficult for many States with powerful union bosses and union lobbies.”
DeMint articulated the basic argument made by “right-to-work” supporters when he said that no federal or state law “should force an American to join a union in order to get a job in this country. No law--State or Federal--should allow an American worker to be fired because he or she does not want to join a union. This is about individual rights. There should not be a Federal law that discriminates against workers who choose not to join a union. This is about fairness and about stopping basic discrimination that is sponsored by this Federal Government.”
Anticipating opposition to his amendment based on the idea that it would violate the right of states to make their own decisions on this issue, DeMint argued: “(R)emoving a Federal mandate on States could only violate States rights in the minds of politicians who have lost touch with our constitutional moorings. My amendment is not about States’ rights. It is not about Federal rights. It is not about business rights. My amendment restores basic unalienable, individual rights . . . It is very consistent with the theme of this Ledbetter bill. It is more likely to eliminate discrimination than the Ledbetter bill itself.”
Sen. Alexander (R-TN), a fellow Republican, argued against the DeMint Amendment. He said “it would take away from States the right to decide whether they want to be a right-to-work State or a State that allows for an agency shop or a union shop.” Alexander noted that twenty-two states, including his own, “have decided, yes; we want to be a right-to-work State under the principles supported by the distinguished Senator from South Carolina, but he wants to make that a national law. I don't trust Washington on this issue. We don't want Washington telling Tennessee, North Carolina, Minnesota, or Maryland what their labor laws ought to be. Let Tennessee decide whether it wants a right-to-work law. I can think of nothing more fundamental to the prosperity of my State than preserving the principle that States have the option to decide whether or not to have a right-to-work law.”
A motion to table is an effort to kill a pending bill or amendment, in this case the DeMint Amendment. The vote on the motion was 66-31. Fifth-seven Democrats and nine Republican voted “aye”. All thirty-one “nay” votes were cast by Republicans. As a result, no language was added to S.181making it illegal for a business to hire only union labor, or to require non-union employees to pay union dues.