Big Labor Sympathizers Cling To Hope For Employee Free Choice Act

Shifting political tides saw prospects for a hot button legislative item brighten briefly last month, only to be clouded by a senior lawmaker’s change

CP Staff

Shifting political tides saw prospects for a hot button legislative item brighten briefly last month, only to be clouded by a senior lawmaker’s change of heart. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA-7th) formally resurrected the contentious Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) March 10. Two weeks later, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) indicated he would not continue backing the bill, thereby siding with GOP colleagues whose ability to block Senate EFCA passage had been much in doubt.

A prior version of the legislation passed the House but stalled in the Senate two years ago, despite Sen. Specter’s support. EFCA rewrites terms of employee voting on union representation and contract bargaining. A joint statement issued by the Office of Rep. Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, cites among EFCA provisions: a) workers’ choice of union representation through a majority sign-up, hence the legislation’s card check nickname, or by National Labor Relations Board-supervised election; b) stiffer penalties against employers that illegally fire or discriminate against pro-union workers for organizing or first contract drive activities, including requiring employers to pay treble back wages to workers whom they are found to have illegally fired; and, c) binding arbitration by federal mediators in the event an agreement on a first contract is not reached within 120 days of a representation vote.

The bill’s re-introduction’s came on the heels of AFL-CIO gatherings in Miami, where in separate addresses President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden each endorsed EFCA. However, legislation opponent Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW) Û whose members include key construction materials and products associations Û had cited wavering Congressional support for the bill leading up to Sen Specter’s announcement. CDW underscored the potential for significant roadblocks surrounding the provision removing secret ballots from union representation votes.

Despite all the rhetoric coming from Big Labor, it’s clear that effectively eliminating secret ballots for workers in union organizing elections has become too politically radioactive for members of Congress to support, a CDW statement noted. The number of EFCA co-sponsors actually decreased this year, even with increased Democratic majorities in both houses. The statement goes on to cite new data showing EFCA might actually hurt employment. A recent study by economist Dr. Anne Layne-Farrar found that by 2010, the legislation will result in the elimination of 600,000 jobs, and lead to similar cuts in subsequent years.

Famed investor and prominent member of President Obama’s economic team Warren Buffett Û a stakeholder in Texas’ Acme Brick and Featherlite Building Products Û has even come out in opposition of EFCA. On the CNBC talk show Squawk Box, he said, I think the secret ballot’s pretty important in the country. I’m against card check, to make a perfectly flat statement.