Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a key supporter in the past of legislation to ease union organizing, has decided not to vote for the bill this time around. His decision will make it harder for the Employee Free Choice Act,
also known as the "card check" bill, to get through the Senate.

Card check would give a union the authority to represent workers if a majority sign a card saying they support the union. This is a significant departure from the current procedure, in which unionization can be decided in a secret ballot managed by the National Labor Relations Board.

Unions have staked their all on getting the bill through Congress this session, while business interests have geared up a massive campaign in opposition. Specter's role is key because two years ago he supported a procedural move to keep the bill alive, and his vote would be necessary now to give Democrats a filibuster-proof, 60-vote margin.

In his statement on the matter Specter said he supported the bill last time not on its merits but because he believed it was necessary for Congress to reform the labor relations system, which is badly politicized and does not work.

Both sides have valid complaints, Specter noted. Labor has suffered from outsourcing of jobs overseas and the loss of pensions and benefits, and business complains that adding a burden would result in further job losses.

But the bill is flawed because it eliminates the secret ballot - "the cornerstone of how contests are decided in a democratic society" - and it imposes compulsory arbitration that may subject the employer to an untenable deal. Moreover, Specter added, the recession makes this a particularly bad time to enact the bill.

He also noted that both sides have used intimidation to get their way. "Testimony shows union officials visit workers homes with strong-arm tactics and refuse to leave until cards are signed. Similarly, employees have complained about being captives in employers' meeting with threats of being fired and other strong-arm tactics."

Specter would rather reform the National Labor Relations Act than pass card check, and has proposed some revisions. He did say, however, that if NLRA reform does not give the unions more bargaining power he would be willing to reconsider card check when the recession is over.