The Senate began debate on the Employee Free Choice Act yesterday as labor and its supporters nationally continued to press lawmakers to support this critical bill. In early March, the House issued its strong support for the legislation, passing it with a 241-185 vote. But the measure is expected to face a more difficult course in the Senate, where it has so far picked up 47 co-sponsors. Business groups have mounted a big fight against the bill, with one organization, the Center for Union Facts, spending $500,000 on over-the-top newspaper and TV spots this week alone. A vote is expected to take place tomorrow in the Senate. Scroll down to implore your elected reps today to vote in favor of basic worker rights. –June 20 Update

Sixty years ago this month, US labor law was dramatically altered in the interests of capital when the Republican-led 80th Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over intense opposition from organized labor. The legislation survived a veto by President Harry Truman, who described the act as a “slave-labor bill”, arguing that it would “conflict with important principles of our democratic society.”

The amendments enacted in Taft-Hartley added a list of prohibited actions, or “unfair labor practices“, on the part of unions to the National Labor Relations Act, which had previously existed to monitor abuses on the part of employers. The Act prohibited jurisdictional strikes, secondary boycotts and “common situs” picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns. Union shops were heavily restricted, and states were allowed to pass “right-to-work” laws that outlawed union shops. Furthermore, the executive branch of the Federal government was empowered to break strikes if an action “imperiled the national health or safety,” a test that has been interpreted broadly by the courts.

Earlier this year, the new Democratic-led House passed the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to undo some of the worst aspects of Taft-Hartley. The Act would ensure that when a majority of employees in a workplace decide to form a union, they can do so without the debilitating obstacles employers now use to block their free choice. Union officials called it the most important piece of pro-labor legislation to pass a house of Congress in decades.

In February in this space, I urged readers to lobby their reps and many of you did. Now, the legislation is pending before the Senate, but faces a GOP filibuster and–if that fails–a threatened veto by President Bush. The vote could come as early as Wednesday, June 20.

Nonetheless, across the country, momentum is building for passage of the bill. Workers have been delivering thousands of messages via email, phone calls or in rallies urging Senate support for the act.

Meanwhile, more than 45 state and local legislative bodies have passed resolutions supporting the legislation and urging their members of Congress to vote for it. Legislators like Maryland state Sen. Jamie Raskin, who says: “The union-busting and union-prevention campaigns of the last three decades have wrecked the dreams of millions of working people, and we need a new movement to safeguard the right of citizens to organize at the workplace. I totally favor the card-check majority plan and will do whatever I can to help it pass.”

You can help too by letting your senators know you expect them to vote in favor of the Act, by joining the AFL-CIO’s Employee Free Choice Action Team, and by helping spread the word about this critical piece of legislation.