Media on card check Wrong or just missing the point?

Just days after the New York Times and other media outlets reported recently that a group of senators “dropped” the majority sign-up provision of the Employee Free Choice Act, the Service Employees International Union responded with an online petition campaign demanding that both houses of Congress schedule an up or down vote on the provision, either as part of the EFCA or by itself.

When he released the petition SEIU President Andy Stern said, “By giving workers the fair choice to join unions and not their bosses, majority signup allows workers to have a voice on the job. Congress needs to hear about your support for majority signup.”

“As we have said from day one, majority signup is the best way for workers to have the right to choose a voice at their workplace,” he said.

When the stories about the “death of card check” broke, a spokesperson for Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is shepherding the bill through the Senate, denied the existence of any such agreement.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney indicated that what he called “speculative reports” about the “dropping” of card check were not the main issue regarding the legislation.

“A bill will be signed into law this year giving workers – not their bosses – the choice about how to form a union,” he declared.

Stern pointed out, “The Employee Free Choice Act is going through the usual legislative process and we expect a vote on the majority signup provision in the final bill or by amendment in both houses of Congress.”

The so-called deal that the media reports claimed would scuttle “card check,” as majority signup is sometimes called, was just one of many “compromises” floated recently among senators. All the compromises considered seriously by Harkin, the senator has said, involve keeping the intent of majority signup while finding a way to get the 60 votes needed to prevent a Republican filibuster against the EFCA.

None of the media reports about the negotiations pointed out that majority signup has been the way workers designate a union as their representative since the Wagner Act was passed during the Great Depression. Taft-Hartley amended that after World War II to allow companies the option of requiring a “secret ballot” election.

There would be no need for any talks about compromise were it not for several Blue Dog conservative Democratic senators who claim they support labor law reform but want to preserve secret ballot elections in the process.

Some of the proposed compromises discussed involve workers mailing their signed union authorization cards or even completed ballots directly to the NLRB.

Senators Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania are among the senators Harkin and the unions have been pressuring, according to one of the People’s Weekly World’s labor sources who said, “The thinking there probably is that if Pryor goes along with something, so will Blanche Lincoln and the rest of the ones sitting on the fence.”

There are reports that among the revisions are ones that would require union elections five days after 30 percent of the workers signed authorization cards, another that would forbid companies from requiring workers to attend captive audience meetings, and one that would give union organizers access to company property.

The reports in the Times and elsewhere also neglected to mention that Harkin has said he will not agree to any measure that does not uphold three basic principals – workers getting the right to make an unhampered choice, stiffer penalties for companies that violate labor law, and provisions for arbitration when employers drag their feet in negotiations.

They also did not report that, according to Harkin, in the event of a move to gut any of the core principals, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has agreed that the original measure will be brought to the Senate floor for an up or down vote so “everyone can see where each senator stands.”

The pro-business Workforce Fairness Institute continues to churn out press releases indicating that even a bill without majority signup would be unacceptable. “We see it as a hostile act to have arbitrators telling businesses what they have to do,” the statement reads.

“Majority signup is based in a simple idea,” Stern said as he called for signatures on the SEIU petition. “If a majority of workers say they want a union, they should get a union. It’s the best way to make sure workers have a full and free choice to join a union without interference or harassment.”

jwojcik@pww.org