Reports of the death of union card check still premature

A report in the New York Times today that says senators have “dropped” the majority sign-up provision of the Employee Free Choice Act is not accurate.

A spokesperson for Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is shepherding the bill through the Senate, said that “no particular provisions of the bill have been agreed to and cannot be agreed to until there is an entire bill that can be agreed to.”

“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,” declared Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, this morning. He added, referring directly to the Times article, “The Employee Free Choice Act is going through the usual legislative process, and we expect a vote on a majority signup provision in the final bill or by amendment in both houses of Congress.”

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 if workers indicate, by signing cards, that they want to be represented by a union.

The “compromise” the Times described as “dropping cardcheck” is only one of numerous compromises that have been discussed over the last several months. The talks have been necessary because, despite what is now a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority for Senate Democrats, there have been a number of conservative Democrats who have had reservations about the majority signup provision.

The compromises have included a variety of ideas that involve everything from mailing the current authorization cards to the NLRB to actually voting up or down on a union and mailing the sealed ballot to the NLRB.

The majority signup provision which several senators feel could be traded off in order to achieve a filibuster-proof 60 votes would require employers to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers signed cards designating a union as their representative.

Those senators include Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

One of the People’s Weekly World’s labor sources 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.”

In this latest of the many compromises discussed the majority signup provision would be swapped for other things the labor movement sees as critical to making it easier for workers to unionize.

Under the revisions, union elections would be required as soon as five days after 30 percent of the workers signed authorization cards. At present the campaigns sometimes span months, during which companies harass, intimidate and often fire pro-union workers.

A second revision would forbid companies, during that five-day period, from requiring workers to attend captive audience meetings where they are forced to listen to anti-union propaganda.

The third revision that is part of the “tradeoff” would require employers to give union organizers access to company property. Union organizers, at present, are forced to talk away from their workplaces while employers can inundate employees with anti-union propaganda at will.

This latest compromise floated, as have all the others, retains provisions for sharply increased penalties against companies that violate labor law and provisions for required arbitration when companies, once a union is recognized, drag their feet on negotiating a first contract.

Labor has long said these provisions are key to labor law reform.

At present, even when companies fire people for union organizing the companies can get off the hook with as little as being required to promise not to do it again.

In Illinois workers at a major health care agency voted for a union three years ago but have still not been able to get their employer to negotiate a first contract

One aide to a union president said he would be “extremely disappointed” about the dropping of majority signup but said, “Even with this latest compromise being floated there would be a victory because unscrupulous outfits that don’t care about their workers will have a lot less time to pressure workers into voting against their own self-interests.”

An aide to a top AFL-CIO official said today, “What we must have is a bill that meets the basic bottom lines we have been pushing for. Workers must have a real voice and, of course, majority signup gives that to them. There must be real penalties against employers who break the law, and you must have a way to keep companies from stalling forever to prevent workers from winning a contract.”

Sen. Harkin himself has, on several occasions, assured labor leaders that he would oppose any move to gut any of the bill’s essential features. Those essential features, as far as he is concerned, are the same ones outlined by labor.

He indicated at the America’s Future Now conference in Washington in June that, in the event that there was a serious move to gut the bill, he had secured assurances from Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, that he would get an up or down vote on the original bill so “everyone can see where people in this Senate really stand.”

Conservative Democratic senators oppose the majority signup provision as “undemocratic,” saying that only a secret ballot election could provide workers with the right of privacy.

Some, of course, were influenced by the multi-million-dollar campaigns against labor law reform that have been mounted by the Chamber of Commerce and many businesses. Labor unions were critical of Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, for example, who they said was influenced by Wal-Mart in that state.

The two labor movement sources interviewed this morning were confident, however, that the votes will exist for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Business leaders continue to oppose the bill, particularly the provision that prevents them from campaigning against unions and the provision that makes it impossible to drag their feet during negotiations.

A Chamber of Commerce statement says, “It is just plain wrong that the government gets to say how much a company should pay and what type of benefits it should provide.”

The pro-business Workforce Fairness Institute issued yet another statement against the bill today, 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.

The corporations say they are also opposed to the fast elections because they need the time to “educate” their workers about the “problems involved with unions.”

It is expected that the final version of the Employee Free Choice Act could come up for a vote in September, once health care legislation has been voted upon.

jwojcik @ pww.org