Busi­ness vs. la­bor: It’s round two for card check slugfest

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KARA ROW­LAND

Hav­ing suc­cess­fully checked “card-check,” busi­ness groups are mount­ing a sec­ond of­fen­sive on Capi­tol Hill against ma­jor changes to the na­tion’s la­bor laws, seiz­ing on an­other con­tro­ver­sial as­pect of the bill in hopes of thwart­ing an un­palat­able com­pro­mise by moderate Democrats.

The Em­ployee Free Choice Act (EFCA), organized la­bor’s top leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity, has sparked a fierce lob­by­ing bat­tle pit­ting the na­tion’s unions against vir­tu­ally a united front of the na­tion’s ma­jor busi­ness lob­bies, with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and many cen­trist Democrats caught in the cross­fire.

The orig­i­nal bill would have en­abled work­ers to form a union if a ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ees sign autho­riza­tion cards, a “card­check pro­vi­sion” tak­ing away the abil­ity of busi­nesses to de­mand a se­cret-bal­lot elec­tion in or­ga­niz­ing bat­tles.

Ef­forts by the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and other busi­ness groups to paint the card-check pro­posal as poi­sonous to the econ­omy ap­pear to have worked as Demo­cratic sup­port­ers strug­gle to round up the nec­es­sary 60 votes to over­come a fil­i­buster. But EFCA op­po­nents now worry that some mod­er­ates could sup­port a com­pro­mise that still in­cludes bind­ing ar­bi­tra­tion.

EFCA also would stiffen penal­ties for la­bor law vi­o­la­tions and al­low for a gov­ern­ment-ap­pointed ar­bi­tra­tor to im­pose a bind­ing con­tract if com­pa­nies and work­ers can­not reach a col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing deal af­ter 120 days. Both of th­ese pro­vi­sions would sig­nif­i­cantly strengthen la­bor’s hand in or­ga­niz­ing bat­tles.

“Our con­cern is that you would find se­na­tors that know this is a bad bill but would per­haps be lured into vot­ing for what we call ‘card check lite,’ “ said Glenn Spencer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cham­ber’s Work­force Free­dom Ini­tia­tive.

De­spite some early set­backs, bill back­ers say they have not given up the fight.

An aide to Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Demo­crat and a lead EFCA spon­sor, said the se­na­tor is “still work­ing to­ward la­bor re­form this year.”

“Talks are con­tin­u­ing on Capi­tol Hill as they al­ways have,” the aide said. “We are mak­ing progress.”

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Repub­li­can turned Demo­crat from Penn­syl­va­nia who could cast a key Se­nate vote on a mod­i­fied EFCA, hinted to a crowd of union ac­tivists in Pittsburgh over the June 6-7 week­end that he might be ready to ac­cept the com­pro­mise la­bor bill.

“I think you’ll be sat­is­fied with my vote on this is­sue on union or­ga­niz­ing and on first con­tract,” Mr. Specter said.

One com­pro­mise that Democrats re­port­edly are float­ing would al­low em­ploy­ees to send in their vot­ing cards by mail rather than in pub­lic. Op­po­nents of the bill say this pro­posal would do lit­tle to guard against in­tim­i­da­tion.

“That’s just EFCA in drag,” said Katie Packer of the Work­force Fair­ness In­sti­tute, an­other busi­ness-backed anti-EFCA group. “How does putting a card in the mail take away the abil­ity of peo­ple to in­tim­i­date and co­erce you into sign­ing it?”

Mr. Spencer said the bill’s “real job-killing po­ten­tial” rests in the power of a gov­ern­ment-ap­pointed ar­bi­tra­tor to im­pose a legally bind­ing two-year con­tract on both par­ties if a com­pany’s man­age­ment and the newly formed union fail to agree to a first con­tract within 120 days. Union leaders said cur­rent law en­cour­ages firms sim­ply to stall and pre­vent a con­tract from ever be­ing ne­go­ti­ated.

“In our opin­ion, bind­ing ar­bi­tra­tion is ac­tu­ally much more danger­ous [than card check],” Mr. Spencer said. “It may be a con­tract that the em­ploy­ers sim­ply can’t live with.”

About 280 busi­ness own­ers from across the coun­try were in town to meet with key se­na­tors last week in the third “fly-in” this year to op­pose EFCA. Late last month, op­po­nents held a round­table dis­cus­sion fea­tur­ing for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, a Repub­li­can.

Like the busi­ness groups, la­bor unions and bill sup­port­ers say they are fight­ing in the best in­ter­ests of work­ers and the econ­omy. When he in­tro­duced the bill, Mr. Harkin said pas­sage is cru­cial to en­sur­ing that the eco­nomic re­cov­ery is “fair” and that wealth is not con­cen­trated in the hands of a few.

EFCA pro­po­nents say the bal­ance of power tilted sharply in cor­po­rate Amer­ica’s fa­vor un­der the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, and have looked to Pres­i­dent Obama and the larger Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties in Congress to counter that.

“I think ev­ery­body from la­bor to Se­na­tor Specter to even some big busi­nesses agree that we need ma­jor la­bor law re­form right now,” said Christy Set­zer, a spokes­woman for the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union.

Sen. Blanche Lin­coln, Arkansas Demo­crat, and Mr. Specter came out against the orig­i­nal bill, which in­cluded card check. Other Democrats — in­clud­ing Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ben Nel­son of Ne­braska and Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia — have voiced reser­va­tions.

For organized la­bor and the busi­ness com­mu­nity, there ap­pears to be lit­tle, if any, mid­dle ground.

Asked what kind of a com­pro­mise the union would sup­port, Ms. Set­zer said it would have to “ad­here to the prin­ci­ples of EFCA” and in­clude card check, stiffer la­bor vi­o­la­tion penal­ties and as­sur­ance that work­ers who voted for a union are “ac­tu­ally able to get to a first con­tract in a rea­son­able amount of time.”

Asked the same ques­tion, Ms. Packer said her group would not sup­port any bill that in­cludes card check or bind­ing ar­bi­tra­tion.

The bill is ex­pected to eas­ily pass the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, but the near-cer­tain prospect of a Repub­li­can fil­i­buster means sup­port­ers must at­tract 60 votes in the Se­nate.

Democrats now con­trol 59 votes in the Se­nate and would have to at­tract at least one Repub­li­can or hope that Demo­crat Al Franken can win the still-dis­puted race for the last va­cant Se­nate seat from Min­nesota.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.