The House of Representatives in both Florida and Missouri have voted for measures designed to blunt the effect of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) should the pro-union measure win passage in the U.S. Congress. The votes came as a pro-EFCA leader joined the Obama administration and a key U.S. senator in the battle switched from the Republican to the Democratic party.

Florida's House voted 74-44 along party lines Monday for a ballot measure in 2010 amending the state constitution to require secret-ballot elections on whether to form a union, the Associated Press reported. Similar legislation remains in committee in the state Senate.

Meanwhile, the Missouri House of Representatives voted 83-74 for a resolution requiring secret ballots in some elections, including those for unions, a press report said. Another vote by the House is required before it would go to the Senate. If it passes there, the measure would be put by voted on by the public.

Both actions respond to legislation under consideration in Congress that would require that an employer recognize a union's bid to represent workers if a sufficient number of employees check off a card indicating they want union representation. Currently, virtually all organizing campaigns end up being settled by a secret ballot of employees. As a result, EFCA also is referred to as the "card-check bill."

The state actions are being championed by organizations such as the Alliance for Worker Freedom, a unit of Grover Norquist's strongly conservative Americans for Tax Reform, have sought to make EFCA's prospects even bleaker by promoting measures at legislatures nationwide opposing secret ballots. According to the alliance, Michigan, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Idaho have passed similar resolutions in their state house and senate, "sending a strong message to their U.S. Federal Delegation to side with workers' rights and against the Big Labor political machine." It added that Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi's state Senate and South Carolina's House of Representatives have passed anti-EFCA resolutions. Alaska, Texas,, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware will vote on similar resolutions in the coming weeks. it said.

State action matters because Washington is regarded as being pro-EFCA. President Obama favored the measure when he was a senator, and the House of Representatives is considered likely to vote for the bill. The sticking point in the capital is in the Senate, where the measure's proponents have yet to round up the 60 votes needed to kill any potential filibuster against the bill. Democrats did have 58 members of the Senate and hope to reach 59 when Al Franken of Minnesota defeats the last legal challenge to his razor-thin margin in last November's election.

That left Democrats one vote short of stopping a filibuster. For a while, they had pinned their hopes on Republican Alan Specter of Pennsylvania, but Specter announced March 24y that he wouldn't vote to kill a filibuster. Hopes that Specter will change his mind rose slightly today when Specter revealed he was switching parties and becoming a Democrat, but his statement about changing parties made no mention of EFCA.

In recent weeks, pro-EFCA forces--who are backed vociferously by labor unions--have sought to develop compromise language that might not end the secret ballot but could crimp business' ability to speak out during a unionization campaign. Proponents were boosted late last week when President Obama appointed Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of the pro-EFCA group American Rights at Work, to serve as senior advisor to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and as a liaison to Vice President Joe Biden's White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families. "Great news from the White House," the AFL-CIO's declared in its report on the appointment. It said Maxwell will "bring to the administration a history of speaking out in support of workers and their freedom to bargain for a better life."

Meanwhile, anti-EFCA groups have tried numerous ways to keep the measure from ever coming up in the Senate. They cheered when conservative Democrats like Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said she would oppose EFCA as currently written.