WASHINGTON — Labor groups ramped up the push on Wednesday for a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize unions, seeking to leverage a new study that found one in four workers was illegally fired during union campaigns.

This story first appeared in the March 5, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal think tank here, said 26 percent of union election campaigns from 2001 through 2007 had illegal firings, compared with about 16 percent in the late Nineties.

The Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to organize by allowing a majority of workers to sign a card in support of a union, is opposed by most of the business community and could be a significant legislative test for President Obama. He cosponsored the bill in the Senate and said during the campaign that he would enact it if elected president. But Obama indicated in January to the Washington Post’s editorial board that he would be open to a compromise.

The bill would also stiffen penalties against employers that illegally fire or discriminate against workers for their union activity during an organizing or contract drive.

“We need the Employee Free Choice Act to fix a broken system that gives corporations far too much power” in union organizing drives, said Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director for American Rights At Work.

Business opponents said the proposal would eliminate management’s ability to argue against unionization and abolish secret ballot elections. Executives also oppose the provision that gives control of a contract to a third-party arbitrator in the event of an impasse.

The legislation, which stalled in the Senate in 2007, is expected to soon be reintroduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.).