Not Much Room for Compromise on Card Check

Sept. 1, 2009
Warehousing and logistics groups object to EFCA provisions they find “toxic.“

Opponents may need to find a new nickname for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). A report in the New York Times indicates Senate committee members working on the bill (H.R. 1409; S. 560) have proposed removing the controversial “card check” provision that would have simplified the process of collecting signatures to organize a non-union company or operation.

The bill was commonly referred to as card check legislation because of a provision that would allow union organizers to collect signatures from workers directly without a secret-ballot election. Further, the provision set a threshold of 50% plus one as the level of support needed to organize. Many workers and opponents to the provision argue the lack of a secret ballot would lead to union intimidation of workers. Unions counter that current rules allow companies to use strong-arm tactics to influence workers to oppose unions.

The House bill and its Senate companion version have been referred to committees in the respective legislative bodies, where they have remained since March 2009.

The report of a possible compromise was greeted with a flurry of reactions. Opponents barely breathed a sigh of relief that the compromise would set a 30% threshold on worker signatures, which would, in turn, allow the union to petition the National Labor Relations Board for a secret-ballot election. Though this approach is not the automatic approval of the card check option, the compromise reportedly does not eliminate the requirement for mandatory arbitration if the union and company do not reach a contract agreement within 120 days. (The law the bill would replace requires only that both parties continue to bargain in good faith.)

Joel Anderson, president and CEO of the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA), says, “The only thing being floated as being dropped from the bill is the secret ballot. The bill still keeps binding interest arbitration, which is a deep and broad line in the sand for employers. This provision would have a federal mediator decide on the first two-year contract for the employees and is still in the bill.”

An IWLA member whose operations are already unionized called the binding arbitration and other provisions still in the bill “toxic issues” and reiterated the concern over the binding arbitration which would set wages in the first contract.

IWLA's Washington representative Pat O'Connor dug a little deeper into the election issue, pointing out that the bill calls for elections to be held within 10 days, not the present 45 days. He also noted, in place of the open card check, ballots would be mailed to workers who would return a postcard ballot. Taken together, these elements compress the election process and trigger the contract negotiation and the 120-day deadline for an agreement.

O'Connor, like others opposing the bill, was concerned that the “last best offer” arbitration was still in place. If the parties do not reach an agreement in the specified time, he said, the federal arbitrator would choose the “last best offer” reached by a comparable company and union in the same geographical area. As O'Connor concludes, “There is no compromise that is acceptable.”

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