Friday, July 17, 2009

Epic Splitting The Difference On Card Check Win

The Employee Free Choice Act has been languishing for a couple months now, all but abandoned in the wake of the push for health care reform and climate change legislation. However, it looks like the bill has gone into the shop and has emerged anew...minus the card check part.

A half-dozen senators friendly to labor have decided to drop a central provision of a bill that would have made it easier to organize workers.

The so-called card-check provision — which senators decided to scrap to help secure a filibuster-proof 60 votes — would have required employers to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers signed cards saying they wanted a union. Currently, employers can insist on a secret-ballot election, a higher hurdle for unions.

The abandonment of card check was another example of the power of moderate Democrats to constrain their party’s more liberal legislative efforts. Though the Democrats have a 60-40 vote advantage in the Senate, and President Obama supports the measure, several moderate Democrats opposed the card-check provision as undemocratic.

In its place, several Senate and labor officials said, the revised bill would require shorter unionization campaigns and faster elections.

While disappointed with the failure of card check, union leaders argued this would still be an important victory because it would give companies less time to press workers to vote against unionizing.

Some business leaders hailed the dropping of card check, while others called the move a partial triumph because the bill still contained provisions they oppose.

The card-check provision was so central to the legislation that it was known as “the card-check bill.” Labor had called the bill its No. 1 objective, and both labor and business deployed their largest, most expensive lobbying campaigns ever in the battle over it.
So, here's the question: without card check, is the bill even still worth passing (or would it be equivalent to health care reform with no public option?) Democrats are now claiming that the measure will be able to pass the Senate without card check in it, which is better than nothing. There are still positive union-building measure in the bill other than card check, but it was card check that made actually creating unions easier, as people could vote to form unions blindly without having to worry about being publicly targeted by managment for a pro-union vote.

Pro-management forces and Republicans locked onto the "secret ballot" process of card check as inherently undemocratic and borderline illegal, saying it violated basic principles of democracy. That's a ridiculous argument of course, but it became an easy out for the "Sensible Centrist" ConservaDem crowd to ditch the bill and still remain loyal to their corporate masters, which is exactly what happened. Arlen Specter, Blanche Lincoln, and Tim Kaine all folded on the bill and it became painfully clear Dems would never get the 60 votes needed to break a guaranteed filibuster.

But all of a sudden with this new card check-free card check bill, that easy out is no longer available. It has all the other union reforms that Democratic leaders and the President want in the bill, it just doesn't have card check in it. It was never card check that corporate America really opposed, it was the measures designed to make unions stronger and easier to form. Card check just became the talking point, the code name for "Boy are those unions corrupt and terrible and horrible!"

The anti-union folks put so much emphasis on card check as the issue that was preventing the EFCA from passing, that with card check removed, they don't have a real argument for opposing it now. The ConservaDems absolutely are without an escape hatch on this one. It remains to be seen how it will be reconciled with the House version (which does have card check in it) but by splitting the difference, the Republicans now have a lot more to lose here than the Democrats do. It's a pretty good piece of political jujitsu to get something rather than nothing, and I'm actually not surprised at all to see Chuck Schumer, Arlen Specter and Sherrod Brown in on this deal.

It bodes very well to see the new version of this bill to become law soon, much better than the all but permanent limbo it was in just a few months ago.

EPIC WIN. Well, potentially.

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