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Where Is Card Check?

Sen. Arlen Specter’s party shift has not, at least immediately, brightened the prospects for card check. As Chris Cillizza reports:

The Employee Free Choice Act, once thought to be THE fight of the 111th Congress, disappeared not with a bang but with a whimper when Specter, seeking to protect his right flank in a Republican primary, came out against it. And, although he has now switched political teams, Specter made clear in his statement on Tuesday that he still opposed EFCA. Labor operatives are optimistic that with Specter now caucusing with Democrats that some sort of deal can be worked out but much work would have to be done to convince other members of the party — Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, for one — to get behind the legislation.

That’s a view shared over at Huffington Post, where Sam Stein quotes a Democratic aide’s observation that it is not just Lincoln but Dianne Feinstein and Jim Webb who’d have to be brought back into the pro-card check fold (not to mention Mark Pryor). Nevertheless, Stein is right I think in suggesting that Specter’s switch brings the potential for some pro-labor “compromise” back to life. The AFL-CIO’s legislative director is declaring it “a new day for the Employee Free Choice Act and labor law reform.”

It will be interesting to see whether the highly successful anti-EFCA forces can adopt an anti-EFCA-lite game plan. There are a couple avenues which they haven’t yet explored, in large part because they were able to beat back EFCA by focusing on the prospect of losing the secret ballot and the huge problems (legal and economic ) with mandatory arbitration.

The first is to back bipartisan reform. Enshrine in statute and enforce the Bush era measures combating union corruption and requiring financial disclosure, make proposed fines for unfair labor practices apply to both unions and employers, and ensure that whatever time limits on elections and access to employer premises (or email) which are required for employers also apply to union decertification elections and union premises (or email), respectively. That might either scare off Big Labor or, if not, maintain the traditional balance between labor and management that has been a hallmark of federal labor law for decades.

The second is to go after the premise that any of this is needed at all. EFCA has been a solution in search of a problem, resting on the questionable notion that unions are losing “market share” not because of worldwide trends against unionization or  because  of younger worker’s lack of affinity for unions but because of nefarious actions by employers. This requires some sober discussion and fact-finding hearings, which may not be in the offing in a Democratic-controlled Congress where the hearings are likely to be stacked heavily in favor of pro-union witnesses. Nevertheless, business groups would be wise to start educating lawmakers and the public if they want to burst the myth that the solution to Big Labor’s woes is more federal legislation.



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