As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Employee Free Choice Showdown Begins

The debate over "card check," which is the name Republicans and Politico would like to use for the Employee Free Choice Act because it has some coded language that doesn't poll well, I guess, begins tomorrow with the bill's introduction in the House and Senate.

Tomorrow, Democrats in both houses of Congress plan to introduce a union-organizing bill that is labor’s top priority for the year, Democratic officials said.

The result could be a high-decibel, high-stakes brawl between business and labor, which strongly supported President Barack Obama. Unions have been getting impatient for attention to the issue, and the push to introduce legislation is a way to ratchet up pressure on Congress.

President Obama, who has said he recognizes that “the business community … considers this to be the devil incarnate,” said in January that he would like to bring the sides together.

The measure — widely known as card check and formally as the Employee Free Choice Act — would allow a union to form after enough workers in a shop sign cards, or petitions, rather than voting by secret ballot.

“The fact that the bill is being introduced so early in the session is an indication of it being a priority and of confidence in the vote count,” said a Democratic official involved in the negotiations.

Warren Buffett, an independent businessman who the Obama campaign for some reason exalted during the fall because of his endorsement, came out sharply against Employee Free Choice using the typical coded language of the right.

"I think the secret ballot's pretty important in the country," said the Oracle from Omaha. "I'm against card check to make a perfectly flat statement."

The Employee Free Choice Act has nothing to do with the secret ballot. It has to do with real punishment for illegal worker intimidation and firings on the part of management, and the decision for who gets to set a union election process. Under current law, management gets to make that decision and then game the system through union-busting. Under the Employee Free Choice Act, workers make the decision either to use majority sign-up or a general election. And a minority of workers, as low as 30%, get to overrule the majority if they want a ballot. Buffett doesn't want you to know that because it's easier to demonize unions by saying "they want to take your secret ballot away."

Of course, the real problem with passage of the bill is not Warren Buffett but a small sliver of Senators whose support is wavering.

Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). This conservative-leaning Dem is up for re-election in 2010, and she has signaled since December that she might not back EFCA this year, although she voted to break a GOP filibuster when it came up in 2007. The Arkansas News reported last week that Lincoln's campaign staff was telling business donors "not to worry" about her vote on the bill.

Arlen Specter (R-PA). Perhaps the most closely watched vote on Employee Free Choice, he is reportedly facing a strong challenge from conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey, who has been rapping Specter's past support for EFCA for months now. Will Toomey's entry into the race be the EFCA "epiphany" that GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently wished on Specter? Labor advocates have to hope not.

Mary Landrieu (D-LA). After co-sponsoring Employee Free Choice and voting with her party to break a filibuster in 2007, Landrieu is now up in the air on this year's vote, according to the Shreveport Times in her state.

Mark Pryor (D-AR). In its report on Lincoln, the Arkansas News also quotes Pryor as declining to become a co-sponsor of the bill this year and pinning his hopes on a compromise between business and labor. For now, Pryor remains decidedly in the fence-sitters' camp.

Any final vote is dependent on Al Franken reaching the Senate chamber, because Specter is probably the only gettable vote on the Republican side. But the above doesn't really look good. Particularly when anti-worker groups are already putting up ads in vulnerable states.

Anyway, these are the crucial votes. Economic recovery is going to require a lot of factors, but certainly one of them is wage increases for a broader middle class. Inequality has led to a perverse and unsustainable economic structure. Historically rises in union membership are closely tied to rises in overall wages. The Employee Free Choice Act is not just a matter of basic fairness, but an economic imperative.

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