Labor Prepares Recess Blitz On Card Check
April 1, 2009
Union officials will launch a major grass-roots drive for “card check” legislation during the two-week spring break, targeting possible GOP Senate pickups and potentially wavering Democrats in an all-out push for the labor organizing bill.
The new effort, being organized by officials from the AFL-CIO, Change to Win and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, signals that labor has not given up on passing the current version of the Employee Free Choice Act, which appears two votes short of the 60 needed to move it.
The legislation would make it easier for workers to unionize by giving them the right to union recognition after a majority of workers have signed pro-union cards.
Labor officials expect one more pro-card check vote if Al Franken (D) is seated as a Minnesota Senator, a prospect that they believe became much more likely after a judicial ruling Tuesday against former Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R) quest to count more absentee ballots.
The other vote will have to come from the Republican camp. Democrats are expected to back the unions on procedural votes requiring 60 Senators, but union officials feel they need to stiffen a couple of spines nonetheless.
With the decision of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to oppose the measure, union officials know the road ahead is difficult. But they are not ready to compromise, as some expect to happen.
“We’re going at this full throttle,” said a labor official with knowledge of the grass-roots campaign.
Some 20 field staff have already been tapped to begin operations in an undisclosed number of states. Among those in the crosshairs are Specter and Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
The effort will feature a huge leafleting drive at workplaces, accompanied by phone calls and letters to lawmakers.
“Labor guardedly expects unified backing of Democrats on the procedural motions requiring 60 votes. But that only gets them to 59.” (Keith Koffler, “Labor Has Yet to Press Obama Over Card Check,” Roll Call, 4/2/09)
“Reporting from Washington – Whether you label it the ‘card check’ bill or the Employee Free Choice Act, you can also call it something else – in deep trouble. Key senators this week appeared to cripple prospects for passing the highly polarizing measure, the labor movement’s top priority in Congress, which is aimed at making it easier for workers to join unions. The latest hurdle came Friday, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she would seek alternative legislation that was less divisive. Feinstein, a past sponsor of the act, cited the flailing economy as a reason; other critics of the bill have said it would drive up operating costs for businesses at a perilous time ... Feinstein’s words came days after Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) declared that he would not support the bill. Specter too had supported the act in the past, and his announcement was viewed as eliminating any chance that Democrats could muster enough votes to break a promised Republican filibuster ... All along, Republicans have made it clear that they would try to stop the bill with a filibuster. Specter’s announcement Tuesday means all 41 Senate Republicans are lined up against the measure. Some moderate Democrats are queasy too. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), for example, has come out strongly against the bill. Other moderates, such as Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), have been noncommittal.” (Jim Oliphant, “‘Card Check’ Bill Loses Key Supporters,” Los Angeles Times, 3/29/09)
Other articles from around the country
SocialistWorker.org: EFCA On The Ropes
Tucson Business: EFCA “Effectively Replaces Private, Good-Faith Bargaining With A Government-Mandated Solution”:
“With stimulus packages, bailouts, bankruptcies, executive bonuses and foreclosures catching most of the attention of the Washington news media of late, businesses need to be made aware of another piece of legislation introduced this month in Congress. It’s called the Employee Free Choice Act. For about 70 years, the rules for obtaining exclusive union representation certification from the National Labor Relations Board has been straightforward: Union organizers must be able to show they have the support from at least 30 percent of a group of employees. Then the NLRB facilitates a secret ballot election. If a majority approve of unionization, the NLRB certifies the union. The Employee Free Choice Act seeks to change the procedure that would allow union certification through a ‘card check’ provision. It would replace the secret ballot and would require the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if a majority of a company’s employees sign union authorization cards. The card check procedure would be run by union organizers. As such, workers’ decisions would no longer be private. It would give union organizers the opportunity to use intimidation to pressure workers who might be reluctant to sign a union authorization card. The secret ballot has served this nation well when it comes to electing our political leaders and nobody is suggesting that should be changed. The secret ballot has also served in union organization elections. The right to vote, in private, has been inviolate. Replacing that with a card system is a mistake. The Employee Free Choice Act would also require a board of arbitrators to rule on union contracts if workers and employers fail to reach an agreement. Either party could request mediation after 90 days of bargaining and arbitration after another 30 days. Binding arbitration would take place after 120 days. This effectively replaces private, good-faith bargaining with a government-mandated solution. Here, the question is: How is government intervention better than a solution arrived at by those most impacted by a union contract?” (Editorial, “‘Card Check’ Unionization Would Be Dangerous,” Tucson Business, 4/2/09)
“I Think Business Has Clearly Won The Early Message Wars Around This Issue And As Long As This Is Framed As A Secret Ballot Debate Labor Will Be Pushing An Uphill Battle In Colorado”:
“Officially, it’s called the Employee Free Choice Act. Republicans call it Card Check. No matter the name, it’s the hot political topic of 2009, and it could prove troublesome for Colorado’s newest senator, Democrat Michael Bennet. At its heart, the EFCA eases union organization rules and, in theory, clears a path for organized labor to eliminate a secret ballot in elections on whether to unionize. Republicans and business leaders say union bosses will use the open voting process to intimidate voters they know oppose unionization ... ‘This is a deal for taking names. And if you want to vote (for) this, you’re going to have an election next time that you’re not going to like,” Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber told Colorado business leaders last week during a stop in Denver. ‘And, I am not talking about all 100 members of the Senate... I am talking about that group of 10 to 13 people who are in the middle,’ he added. ‘The bottom line is, we are going to play the same game (labor) is going to play, but we are going to play it better and more expensively’ ... Unlike Colorado’s other Democratic congressional members, who were forced to take a position on the EFCA during the 2008 campaign, Bennet was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter in January to fill the remaining term of Sen. Ken Salazar and has yet to be forced into taking a public position ... ‘I think business has clearly won the early message wars around this issue and as long as this is framed as a secret ballot debate labor will be pushing an uphill battle in Colorado,’ [Eric] Sondermann [a Denver political analyst] said.” (Jason Kosena, “Both Sides On EFCA Set Sights On Bennet,” The Colorado Statesman, 3/27/09)
“Congress Needs To Reject EFCA And Send The Message To Our Business Owners And Workers That Their Interests – Not Those Of Union Bosses – Are The True Priority Of Our Lawmakers”:
“There are many lessons in the recent slide into recession, but one that stands out is that workers and businesses are in this situation together. If businesses are hurt, so are their workers. Unfortunately, Big Labor is using these economic problems to push for legislation that would help beef up its coffers and pit workers against business owners. This legislation – the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) – would hurt both workers and businesspeople, and it is not the type of legislation we need if this nation’s economy is to make a timely recovery. While it may be convenient to paint a picture of business owners and workers having contradictory interests, the current economic situation illustrates how shallow that thinking is. When businesses fail, workers lose their jobs. And when workers aren’t treated well, businesses do not thrive. The interests of workers and business owners are not in conflict – they coincide ... Enacting EFCA would put many Florida businesses on the same path as we are seeing with the automakers and other industries. As the representative of a right to work state, EFCA co-sponsor Senator Bill Nelson should re-evaluate who he is representing with his support of this misguided legislation and show his loyalty to voters rather than organized labor. Congress needs to reject EFCA and send the message to our business owners and workers that their interests – not those of union bosses – are the true priority of our lawmakers.” (Doug Wheeler, “Enriching Big Labor At The Expense Of Workers, Business,” Boca Raton News, 3/29/09)
Boca Raton News: “To Deny [The Secret Ballot] To Workers In An Area As Critical As One’s Job Is The Worst Kind Of Outlandish Arrogance”:
“House Majority Leader Adam Hasner (R-Delray Beach) is precisely on the mark is his calling for a defeat of something called the Employee Free Choice Act. The act would automatically create a union in businesses with more than 10 employees once the union collects ‘authorization cards’, signed by six of that ten. That’s right. No secret ballot. Not even any discussion or debate. Show up one day, and by lunch you’re unionized. Free from intimidation or coercion, the right to vote in private is one of the anchors of our nation. To deny that right to workers in an area as critical as one’s job is the worst kind of outlandish arrogance on the part of the labor union movement.” (Editorial, “Private,” Boca Raton News, 3/29/09)
ID House Committee Asks Congressional Delegation Not To Support EFCA:
“A House Committee is asking Idaho’s congressmen not to support passage of the federal Employee Free Choice Act. The act would modify federal labor laws to change who can call for a private ballot election when employees want to unionize. Critics say it takes away employees rights to a federally monitored private election ... National Federation of Independent Business lobbyist Suzanne Budge says the act would prohibit employers from discussing the business impact of unionizing. The House State Affairs Committee passed the memorial 11-5 Thursday. It has already passed through the Senate.” (“House Committee Votes Against Union Choice Act,” Fort Mill Times, 4/2/09)
The Pantagraph: “Conditions Imposed By The Arbitrator Would Remain In Effect For Two Years, Even If Neither The Workers Nor Their Employers Liked Them”:
“Don’t be misled by the name of the ‘Employee Free Choice Act.’ This proposal being pushed by labor unions and sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California would take away choice. Among other things, the measure would effectively take away workers’ rights to a secret ballot and end workers’ privacy about their support – or lack of support – for unions in their workplace. Instead, if just over 50 percent of employees sign a card authorizing a union, the union would become the employees’ bargaining agent. That would be true even if many employees didn’t know an organizing campaign was going on and even if many of the employees signing the card thought they were only requesting an election – not to mention that the signatures could remain invalid indefinitely. The measure also could potentially take away workers’ rights to vote on contract provisions. It would require binding arbitration if a contract isn’t reached within four months. And the wages and working conditions imposed by the arbitrator would remain in effect for two years, even if neither the workers nor their employers liked them ... The same congressman who is sponsoring this measure was part of a group of Democrats who sent a letter to Mexico in 2001 that insisted that a secret ballot in union elections was ‘absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.’ Passage of this proposal would send the wrong message to Mexico and other countries about workers’ rights and secret ballots in general. Several Democrats, including former Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, have expressed opposition to the card check proposal. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., a one-time backer of the legislation, withdrew her support last week, citing the failing economy, among other reasons, for her change of heart. We would like to see a similar change of heart from Illinois' two Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Roland Burris. This proposal is not good for workers or businesses or the national economy. It is an affront to the principles on which this nation was founded.” (Editorial, “Preserve Right To Secret Ballot In Union Votes,” The Pantagraph, 4/2/09)
“We Need Look No Further Than The Damage Binding Arbitration Has Done To Detroit Through The Years, Beginning With Forcing Massive Police Layoffs In The 1980s”:
“The secret ballot is one of the bedrocks of our democracy. We use it in selecting all public officials. Workers should have the same guarantee of freedom from coercion or intimidation when deciding whether they want union representation. Card check is the equivalent of having an election that is run and funded by one of the candidates. We obviously would not tolerate such a process in electing public officials. So why would we tolerate it in a decision by employees that has such a profound effect on their working conditions? The other major flaw is that the proposed legislation would mandate binding arbitration if management and labor don’t reach a collective bargaining agreement after the card check has resulted in a work force being organized. We need look no further than the damage binding arbitration has done to Detroit through the years, beginning with forcing massive police layoffs in the 1980s, to see how unwise such a change would be. The late Mayor Coleman A. Young, who sponsored the binding arbitration legislation when he was in the Michigan Senate, often said it was the worst mistake he made in his legislative career once he had to deal with its results. The badly misnamed ‘Employee Free Choice Act’ will not work for Michigan.” (Steven Fishman, “Unions Shouldn’t Run Workplace Votes,” The Detroit News, 4/2/09)
With EFCA “Employers Could Be Stuck With A Contract That They Can’t Afford, Driving Many To Bankruptcy”:
“Congress is considering legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act. While few people have heard of this bill, it is the most sweeping rewrite of federal labor law in 70 years. The act essentially would abolish the protection of a private or secret ballot during union organizing campaigns, eliminate workers’ ability to vote on a union contract and make it almost impossible for employers to talk to employees about unionization ... If the act becomes law, union organizers could skip the election and would need only to collect signature cards. Once more than 50 percent of the employees have signed cards, the union would automatically be certified, and a secret ballot election would be prohibited. The signature cards would be signed publicly – making a worker’s ‘vote’ public. Union organizers would know who had, or hadn’t, signed a card and could relentlessly pursue those who refused to sign until they got their majority. It’s not hard to imagine the tactics that might be used to get those workers to sign a card. The second provision of the bill deals with the collective bargaining process once a union is certified. Under current law, the parties meet, negotiate the terms and conditions of employment and reach a contract. Workers then vote to ratify the contract. EFCA would undermine this collective bargaining process through binding arbitration. Under binding arbitration, the parties must reach a deal within 120 days. If they can’t, a government arbitrator would step in and impose a contract on both sides. Because the contract is binding, workers would be denied a ratification vote. Additionally, employers could be stuck with a contract that they can’t afford, driving many to bankruptcy. Finally, binding arbitration removes any incentive to compromise. Instead, the incentive is to submit the most extreme proposals possible and hope that the arbitrator gives you most of what you want.” (Dave MacIver, “‘Free Choice Act’ Steals Right To Secret Ballot,” Grand Forks Herald, 4/2/09)
“There’s A Feeling Of Outrage About [EFCA]” & “I See EFCA As The Most Radical Piece Of Labor Legislation I’ve Seen In The 20 Years That I’ve Been Practicing Law”:
“The business community is up-in-arms about a bill in Congress that would give more power to workers to organize into a union. The Employee Free Choice Act of 2009, or card check bill, is probably the most contentious piece of legislation in the congressional docket so far this year ... Three key provisions of the bill are upsetting the business community. One is the institution of a card check process whereby the union can see who votes for or against organizing. This provision would eliminate the secret ballot measure now ubiquitous in the workplace. The second key provision is the appointment of an arbitrator if union and management fail to reach an agreement after 90 days. A third provision would increase the fines employers must pay if found guilty of violating their employees’ right to organize ... ‘I’ve been in the chamber business for 26 years and I have never seen the business community so spun up about an issue,’ said Ira Agricola, senior vice president, governmental affairs, for the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. ‘There’s a feeling of outrage about this issue. You get an emotional response from businesses that I have never seen before.’ The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill, which is in House and Senate committees now. ‘I see EFCA as the most radical piece of labor legislation I’ve seen in the 20 years that I’ve been practicing law,’ [William] Furr [who practices labor and employment law for Willcox & Savage] said. ‘Replacing our time-tested secret ballot election process with mere signatures on a union card will hurt businesses and our fragile economy. A secret ballot election is fair; a card-signing procedure is not,’ he said. ‘It is fundamentally unfair to give arbitrators the power to arbitrarily decide what pay and benefits employers must offer to their employees. This is a hot issue’ ... To take away the secret ballot is to take away a fundamental concept of labor law, Furr said, adding it will take a strong personality to refuse. ‘With a secret ballot, you can vote your mind,’ he said. ‘With a card check, you vote under peer pressure.’ A coalition of business leaders and organizations issued a statement March 10 urging Virginia’s congressional delegation to oppose the bill. The bill would radically alter labor laws and fuel antagonism between employers and employees, the statement said. ‘EFCA is a brazen attempt by organized labor to tilt the playing field in organizing efforts to favor the unions in a clear and unmistakable way,’ said Hugh Keogh, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, in the statement. ‘Our labor-management atmosphere in Virginia for many years has been conducive to rising productivity and largely free of work stoppages. The current economic uncertainty is hardly the time to upset that fragile apple cart.’ ‘The main thrust of EFCA is fundamentally anti-democratic and will only serve to erode Virginia’s right-to-work statute, productive work environment and competitiveness,’ said Brett Vassey, president and CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, in the March 10 statement. ‘As a nation, we vote for president in secret, and members of Congress vote for their leadership in secret,’ said Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, in an e-mail. ‘I believe workers should be afforded the same rights as voters and members of Congress. The card check legislation would deny workers this fundamental right.’” (Phillip Newswanger, “Businesses Oppose Union Legislation,” The Hampton Roads Business Journal, 3/30/09)