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Employee Free Choice Act Facing Legislative Resistance

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With a newly democratic congress and executive, the future is looking brighter for leftist and center-left reforms. However, unlike the united front of the Republican majority a scant few years ago, the Democratic majority is no “rubber stamp” legislature. Even the priorities of one of the greatest proponents of Democratic politicians, that of organized labor, are not guaranteed to pass.

Case in point is the Employee Free Choice Act. This piece of legislation is the at the forefront of labor’s efforts, and has been introduced into congressional debate early this March. The act has the potential for greatly increasing the ranks of American unions after thirty years of merciless attacks by business and government agencies meant to aid working people attempting to organize unions.

The Employee Free Choice Act is composed of three coordinated provisions. First, and most controversial, is the “card check” provision. Considered by labor and management to be the most important piece of the bill, the card check provision would allow a union to be formed in a work place if a 50% + 1 majority of workers sign cards stating that they wish to join a union. If the workers decide on the union via the card check, the union is recognized and can immediately go about negotiating a contract.

Business interests have spent millions of dollars attempting to convince legislators that the provision destroys worker’s access to a secret ballot election. Although this argument does not take into account several means of secret ballot access that would remain if EFCA passed, such as a decertification election (outlined in the National Labor Relations Act Section 9(e)), it has proven effective in swaying conservative democrats into opposing the legislation.

Card check is considered vital to labor, since one of the most powerful means of busting unions is in the implementation of the time between the call for a secret election to the actual election. During this time management mobilizes its many advantages, such as the ability to threaten pay reductions and outsourcing, a monopoly over worker’s time on the job, the ability to have one-on-one sessions pressuring workers against unionizing, and many other tactics that they couldn’t implement in a card-check election. With the card check provision, workers could organize without management having time to stop them or even notice their efforts. This frightens management and its allies, and they are doing whatever they can to prevent it.

The other two provisions are mandatory contract arbitration and stricter monetary penalties for breaking labor law. The mandatory contract arbitration states that if after 120 days management and labor are still in disagreement on a contract, the National Labor Relations Board will send a mediator to force an agreement between the two groups. This is considered necessary by labor, since another effective means of defeating organized workers is to simply decline to negotiate a contract. While not as controversial as the card check provision, it is also been used as an effective means of turning legislators against the Employee Free Choice Act.

Upon introduction to the senate the bill seemed to have a relatively clear path to passage. With 40 co-sponsors and an additional 4 democrats signaling support, it was believed that the vote would go down by party lines, with a mixture of support from Democrats ranging from a “yea” vote to a vote for cloture. To pass the bill would need at least 51 to vote “yea”, and an additional 10 to vote for cloture, otherwise the Republican minority and its allies could effectively kill the vote via filibustering (or the unending debate on an issue making it impossible to vote on).

It was initially believed that with Al Franken winning in Minnesota, would stand at 59 to 40 for cloture. Arlen Specter (R-PA) was the only Republican in support of EFCA, and had voted for an earlier version of the bill, would have cast the deciding vote killing the possibility of a filibuster and allowing the bill to pass. Since the introduction of the bill, Specter has since changed his stance towards both voting against the bill and against cloture as well. However, since he will now run as a democrat, he will not want to anger labor. This puts him in a precarious position, and will only increase the already pressure cooker level of lobbying he has had to face from both sides of this issue.

More disturbingly for proponents of the bill is the defection of moderate Democrats including Blanche Lincoln (D-A) who has openly signaled her opposition to the bill. Other moderate democrats have indicated that they want to see some modification of the bill, almost always focusing on the removal of the card check provision. Some of these conservative Democrats include Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mark Warner (D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Ben Nelson (D-NE). While the bill still has a possibility of passing, there is a high probability that it will be in a reformed version, most likely changing or removing card check.

Recently Thomas Frank of the Wall Street Journal pointed out the composition of the opposition to EFCA in his article entitled EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE IS DEAD…conservative Democrats killed it (I disagree with his title, but his points are valid!) : “[M]aybe it’s just the money. Consider the lineup of lobbyists that retail giant Wal-Mart has assembled to make its case against EFCA. According to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the House and Senate we find that Wal-Mart’s lobbyists include Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti (which employs former presidential candidate John Kerry’s liaison to Congress during the 2004 campaign), a former legislative director for Rahm Emanuel, and a former assistant to Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Wal-Mart has also secured, according lobbying disclosure forms filed with Congress, the services of Tony Podesta, of the Podesta Group, one of the hottest lobby shops in Democratic D.C. Mr. Podesta is joined in pushing Wal-Mart’s views on EFCA by a former assistant to Democrat Mark Pryor, the other senator from Arkansas. [FS note: The firm was co-founded with John Podesta, a lead Obama advisor, although he’s no longer listed on the group’s manifest.]

The real standout on Wal-Mart’s labor-issues roster, though, is D+P Creative Strategies, which wears its liberalism as proudly as last week’s tax protestors did their three-cornered hats. According to its Web site, D+P “highlights partnership, shared benefits, and a commitment to advancing social justice goals.” The disclosure form for its Wal-Mart EFCA activities lists a former assistant to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. The bio of its principal, Ingrid Duran, who is also listed as a Wal-Mart lobbyist, declares that the firm’s mission is “to increase the role of corporate, legislative and philanthropic efforts in addressing the concerns of Latinos, women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities.”

The future for EFCA is far from over though, and the decision about EFCA is bound to be made within the coming weeks. Business interests have poured millions in defeating this bill, and organized labor has done its best to fight back. For the unions to attain any sort of victory from this battle it will have to marshal community support. The conservative democrats are the key focus, and only a concerted effort of letter writing and phone calls made on behalf of EFCA will allow the bill any means of their support.

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Written by jackofspades83

May 20, 2009 at 11:56 am