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Candidates for 23rd District split on labor issues

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To organized labor and those doing business in the 23rd Congressional District, few pieces of federal legislation are more closely watched than the Employee Free Choice Act.

The bill, as written, would allow employees to create a union if a majority of the group agrees to it by signing authorization forms, or cards, and those forms are certified by the National Labor Relations Board.

While the current law allows an employer to request a secret ballot election after the cards are signed, this bill would allow employees to skip that step if they collected signed cards from a majority of workers.

The bill allows either a company official or a union leader to refer an unresolved first contract dispute to federal mediation within 90 days. If federal mediation does not work in a month's time, the dispute is sent to binding arbitration.

The act also allows the National Labor Relations Board to seek a court injunction against any employer that threatens, intimidates or discriminates against employees who try to organize a union.

Congress is expected to take up the bill this fall, although the New York Times reported last month that six Democratic senators have pushed to drop the so-called "card-check" provision which allows union organizers to bypass the secret ballot process.

Mario Cilento, a state AFL-CIO spokesman, said his group is lobbying for the card-check provision to remain.

Douglas L. Hoffman, the Conservative Party's congressional nominee, said the bill is "poorly named and poorly conceived."

"The name itself makes it sound really good, but it takes away the worker's basic right to a secret ballot. And frankly that's wrong," he said. "It also takes away the employer's right to control their own workplace. And it would destroy the entrepreneurial spirit of this nation."

William L. Owens, the Democratic nominee, said he would support the bill as it is structured now. Republican Dierdre K. Scozzafava said she also would support the legislation.

Rep. John M. McHugh, the current seat holder, has previously voiced his support of the bill.

Here are the candidates' positions on five other issues important to labor:

nAmerican Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Ms. Scozzafava and Mr. Owens said they would have supported the $787 billion stimulus bill. Mr. Hoffman said he would have opposed it.

Mr. Owens said he'd like to see more of the funds redirected toward job creation or assisting farmers.

"What you want to do with the stimulus dollars is set up a infrastructure base so that people going forward can independently make their decisions and hopefully be successful in their businesses," he said.

Ms. Scozzafava said the money should have gone to one-time water, sewer, rural broadband and transportation projects that would have had a lasting effect.

"There was a good opportunity, but I have to believe that part of that opportunity was squandered in programs that involved recurring expenses," she said.

Ms. Scozzafava voted against the state budget, partly because she thought stimulus dollars were going to be used irresponsibly.

Mr. Hoffman said he gets "worried when I hear about Washington bureaucrats handing out money."

Instead of investing in capital projects, the Conservative candidate said, the stimulus money has been used to supplement budgets or spent on special interest projects. Even more is mired in government red tape, he said.

nTaxation of health benefits: Federal lawmakers are considering taxing an employee's health benefits to fund changes to the federal health-care system.

Ms. Scozzafava and Mr. Hoffman stand opposed, with the Conservative adding that he "will not vote for increased taxes anywhere."

Mr. Owens gave no position but said it's an idea "that I would have to look at very, very carefully."

nCash Allowance Rebate System: Mr. Owens and Ms. Scozzafava liked the $3 billion program, which is more commonly known as "Cash for Clunkers." Mr. Hoffman did not.

"It helped put labor back to work. And it did a lot of important things to get the economy moving in the right direction," Mr. Owens said.

Mr. Hoffman disagreed.

"Rather than create new demand, it just shifted demand," he said. "It just caused consumers to purchase vehicles a few months earlier than they would have already."

He added: "You're going to have retailers hurting. New car sales may spike now and go back to lower than they would have been if they didn't do the program at all."

Ms. Scozzafava said she was concerned about the amount of money committed to the program.

"Perhaps it could have been a little bit less per vehicle," she said. "There's some signs that this economy might turn around. But now is the most important time to watch what we're doing."

nLilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act: The bill changed the federal Civil Rights Act to give employees a new 180-day statute of limitations for filing a pay discrimination lawsuit every time they received a paycheck that reflected the alleged discrimination.

Previously, the Supreme Court held the 180-day limitation started when the pay was first agreed upon between employee and employer, even if the employee did not discover the discrimination for years.

It passed the House, with Mr. McHugh opposed, and was signed into law by President Barack Obama in January.

Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Scozzafava said they would have opposed the bill. The Republican said she's supported most pay equity bills in the Assembly, but said the Ledbetter bill "went too far" in allowing an employee a seemingly indefinite "lookback period." She said it would put an "undue burden" on businesses.

The Conservative candidate said the Ledbetter act is "a major victory for trial lawyers" and said companies "would be forced to pass on costs (from lawsuits) to consumers."

Mr. Owens said he was not familiar with the specific legislation, but added: "Everyone should be paid fair wages for their work, irrespective of any other factor that may come into play."

nDavis-Bacon Act: The law, which has been in effect since the Great Depression, requires construction workers to be paid prevailing wages on public works projects.

Ms. Scozzafava and Mr. Owens support it remaining in effect. Mr. Hoffman would like to see it repealed, saying "it stifles economic growth and takes away the competitive workplace."

He said the federal government pays $8.6 billion in extra construction costs and $100 million in administrative costs annually because of Davis-Bacon. He said the private sector pays $190 million more annually.

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