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

Friday, May 08, 2009

Division Of Labor

The rumors of a deal on the Employee Free Choice Act are really heating up. Card check is likely to drop, but other notable elements may remain. And in place of the new bargaining rules, none other than Dianne Feinstein has proposed a kind of vote-by-mail version of card check that would eliminate the hype from the right about the end of the "secret ballot" in union elections.

To win more support and prevent any intimidation, Senate Democrats are considering a proposal pushed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat. In a procedure similar to the early voting that precedes elections in many states, workers could sign cards and mail them to the National Labor Relations Board. If a majority mailed cards, the board would order the employer to recognize the union, as it now does when a majority of workers vote for a union through secret ballots.

It's kind of a novel idea, though I'm sure the right will find fault with it (maybe now we'll get "union voter fraud" cases). But it's important to understand that the union election process as it stands now looks nothing like a political election. Unless in a political election, your boss can bring you into a room and tell you how important it is to vote for John McCain, threaten to give you crappy shifts if you don't, fire the Obama organizers and run nothing but McCain ads 24 hours a day:

That union election dyusfunction must change. The same with the ability for employers to endlessly delay the election and then object to a contract even if the workers vote for a union. The National Labor Relations Board has a mission to ENCOURAGE unions, by the way, but their laws do the opposite. So this vote-by-mail card check at least would end this nightmare of a process. Another possibility is a quick election process, perhaps even in a matter of days, which wouldn't give the employer time to hire the union busters and intimidate their employees.

The other sticking point would be mandatory arbitration 120 days after union recognition, if both sides cannot reach a contract. Arlen Specter, fighting for his political life, has come up with a plan:

Mr. Harkin said, “If the Chamber of Commerce says they’re opposed to everything, then they’re not going to be a player.” He cited a proposal by Mr. Specter that might help preserve the arbitration provisions. Under it, the arbitrator would choose between offers by an employer and by a union. “The last, best offer idea might have legs,” Mr. Harkin said.

Several labor leaders said they would accept legislation with fast elections only if it included arbitration and tougher penalties for companies that break labor laws. One view is to wait until 2011 to push for sweeping labor law changes, on the assumption that Democrats will enlarge their Senate majority in the 2010 elections.

A separate idea would have mediators involved in negotiations instead of giving it all to an arbitrator. Jane Hamsher has more.

My view is that we need to start reforming the broken system, so more mild reforms are a good launching-off point. Eventually, perhaps after the midterms, I would return to this and resubmit the Employee Free Choice Act language as written today.

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