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Unions Open to EFCA Deal

Union leaders appear to be warming up to a “card check— bill being drafted by Senate Democrats. But the business community already has the yet-to-be introduced legislation in its sights.

An organized labor official confirmed that compromise negotiations with Senate offices on the Employee Free Choice Act are ongoing and that “everything remains on the table,— including a provision that would make it easier for workers to organize by giving them the right to union recognition after a majority of workers sign pro-union cards.

The New York Times on Friday reported that Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa) and other Senate Democrats are crafting compromise EFCA legislation that does include the card check language, an attempt to attract moderates and reach the still-elusive 60 votes necessary to cut off debate.

Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the union-backed coalition American Rights at Work, would not rule out the possibility that his group would support a bill that does not include the majority sign-up provisions.

“We’re not prepared to say that yet,— Goldstein said. “Details are still being ironed out through the typical legislative process and these negotiations with Senators are ongoing. But we’re confident strong labor law reform … is going to happen.—

But not every union appears to be leaving the door open so wide. Soon after the Times piece hit the newsstands late last week, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern quickly poured cold water on it.

In a brief statement, he strongly suggested that he expects the contentious provision to be restored once it hits the Senate floor.

“As we have said from day one, majority sign-up is the best way for workers to have the right to choose a voice at their workplace,— Stern said. “The Employee Free Choice Act is going through the usual legislative process, and we expect a vote on a majority sign-up provision in the final bill or by amendment in both houses of Congress.—

SEIU spokeswoman Ramona Oliver on Friday declined to elaborate on Stern’s statement, calling it “very, very clear.—

While unions are holding their breath, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is sticking to its rigid posture. Glenn Spencer, the executive director of the chamber’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, called the new proposal “card check light— and said “there’s no compromise.—

“This is an attempt to solve political poison — no one wants to vote to take away secret ballot rights — but doesn’t really solve the real economic poison, the interest arbitration provision,— Spencer said of another contentious provision in EFCA that the business community fears will restrict the rights of business owners.

Spencer also said Stern’s statement Friday reinforces why the chamber is taking a hard-line stance on EFCA. With 60 votes for cloture Spencer and other card check— foes assume the provision will be adopted as an amendment.

“What’s interesting is Andy Stern’s statement,— Spencer said. “What that says to me is that no matter what compromise this group cooks up, who cares? We’re just going to put that stuff back in on the floor.—

“It really almost doesn’t matter what this compromise group comes up with anymore, Andy Stern just told us what the conspiracy is: Get out some product that will get 60 votes to get out on the floor and then they’ll just add everything back in that’s objectionable,— he continued.

And regardless of whether a rift is forming among unions on a card check compromise, a labor official predicted that organized labor likely will have plenty of time to sort it out: Harkin’s bill is not expected to be produced until September. The union source also said that’s plenty of time for the groups to get on board.

“There’s not going to be anything until at least the fall,— the source said. “Health care is just absorbing all of the attention right now [and] the administration is very focused on health care reform.—

“When the details of a compromise finally come out, you’re going to see very strong labor support for this bill,— the source continued. “It’s significantly better than nothing.—