Lawmakers May Be Close to Compromise On 'Card Check' Bill

Lawmakers May Be Close to Compromise On ‘Card Check’ Bill


Karoun Demirjian

June 10, 2009

Congressional Quarterly


After weeks of negotiations, a small working group of senators may be nearing compromise on a new framework to address unionization, known better as the controversial “card check” bill.


Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has been meeting chiefly with Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., to hash out the terms of a compromise that could bring 60 senators on board — a cloture-proof majority that is likely to rest entirely on Democrats’ votes. Meetings have been taking place on a “near daily” basis, according to a spokeswoman for Harkin, with another scheduled for Wednesday.


Though senators have generally remained tight-lipped about their progress, Specter recently broke that mold, telling a Pennsylvania state Democratic party conference last weekend that they would be pleased with his eventual vote on the card check bill (S 560, HR 1409).


Senators and their staffs say that should not lead anyone to think that the negotiators have reached a breakthrough yet, or that they are ready to circulate a bill.


But Specter’s bargaining position has always been something of a litmus test for the viability of the bill. Specter has criticized the bill’s provisions that favor union organization by majority sign-up — the “card check” procedure, which can be used instead of a secret ballot for elections — as well as the provision of the original bill that requires binding first-contract arbitration in cases where new unions are unable to conclude a contract with their employers in the first 120 days of negotiations. Despite this long-held stance, he voted in favor of cloture on a similar bill last Congress — a gesture that unions officials and Democrats in Pennsylvania are pressuring Specter to repeat.


Union officials familiar with the negotiations have said that while the “card check” provisions of the bill are likely to be altered, it appears that a binding arbitration time limit will still be part of the final product.


Specter isn’t the only challenge Democrats face in trying to craft a 60-vote majority. While many Democrats who have refrained from lending their support to the measure are floating alternatives — Dianne Feinstein of California, for instance, has proposed a majority sign-up by mail option that would keep the tallying free from union leaders’ influence — several conservative Democrats, such as Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, have flatly stated their opposition to any bill resembling the card check proposal.


For their part, business lobbyists have been keeping up the pressure on conservative Democrats to hold the line.


“Facts do matter. The more people learn about [the legislation], the less they like it,” said Randy Johnson, vice president with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


While leaders have no plans to circulate language in the days ahead, legislative hurdles do not appear to be the biggest area of concern for Democratic leaders.


“These negotiations have been tense. There are ongoing meetings, but nothing is going to come out until the Minnesota case is resolved,” said Harkin, referring to the seven-month dispute over last November’s Senate election in Minnesota between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman. “I really had planned on doing this this month, but without Mr. Franken, it makes it pretty tough.”


Harkin is counting his majority so carefully that even the absences of Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., have him concerned. He said he is now hoping to bring the bill to the floor in July.