Bait-and-switch: Secret vote, binding arbitration

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Strategists say secret ballot ban is a stalking horse

When the dust settled after the election last week, the Democrats fell just short of the 60-vote, filibuster-proof Senate majority they wanted. That's put a question mark over one of the party's most controversial initiatives: the Employee Free Choice Act.

Democrats, including President-elect Barack Obama, campaigned hard for the pro-union legislation, also known as "card check." Big Labor, which threw its support behind the party, wants it badly. But without a filibuster-proof majority, its chances are slim.

That's prompted rumors in Washington that unions might accept putting card check aside in favor of pushing issues like binding arbitration. Big Labor publicly scoffs at such talk.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuels said the card check side can count on 58 votes, just two votes short of the number needed to overcome a filibuster.

But three Senate races remain unresolved and some senators may flip, Samuels says. So they see no reason not to push for a vote.

"Business may be looking for a way out of this debate . . . because of the election results," he said. "But this is a new president, a new Congress, and we hope to bring more Republicans on board."

He conceded, though, that a Senate vote may have to wait until after Obama's first 100 days.

The legislation would make union organizing radically easier by bypassing federally monitored elections with an open petition drive. If a majority of workers sign the cards, then a workplace is unionized.

Unions see it as the best hope for reviving their sagging numbers, which have dropped to just 12% of the work force and only 7.5% of the private-sector work force.

Critics, led by big business, say card check would let unions intimidate and coerce workers into signing since the process would end the secret ballot in federally monitored elections.

Public polling suggests voter opposition to card check, though outside of certain blue-collar audiences the idea got little attention during the election.

Last week both sides drew lines in the sand. When asked by reporters if Big Labor would draw back on card check, Service Employees International Union Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger gave a curt "no."

Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue similarly told reporters that his organization would fight card check aggressively and "we will win."

The last time card check came up was in June 2007. The 51-48 vote came far short of breaking a GOP filibuster. All but one of the Senate's 51 Democrats backed it as did Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., was ill.

At least five more pro-card-check Democratic senators were elected last week. Sen.-elect Mark Warner, D-Va., hasn't taken a stand but is generally viewed as a card check vote.

The House has easily passed card check before, and activists expect it will do so again next year.

Some pro-business activists wonder if the push for card check isn't a bluff, given that Democrats likely lack the 60 Senate votes to stop a GOP filibuster.

They think labor may be using it to draw attention away from other items on their wish list, like binding arbitration and changes to the National Labor Relations Board. Under this scenario, Big Labor would drop card check and push for the other items as a compromise.

In his press conference last week Donohue noted: "The unions have some 14 other points that they are trying to advance . . . all of which can be discussed at the appropriate time in Congress."

Going For Half A Loaf

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, which opposes unions, cited a Slate column by William Gould, a NLRB chairman under President Clinton, that advocated a compromise as evidence that Big Labor may take that option.

"The real power for organized labor comes in the forced arbitration," Mix said. "The secret ballot provision (i.e., card check) is a political loser. They know that. So it's trade bait for them."

Brian Johnson, executive director of the Alliance for Worker Freedom, which opposes card check, says some activists fear business groups may accept a compromise.

"There is a scary idea that perhaps the chamber and other business groups might squish," said Johnson, who added: "According to the chamber and people I've talked to, no, they're still vehemently opposed."

Robert Borosage, co-director of the labor-backed Campaign for American Future, says the anti-card-check forces are missing the point. Unions believe Democrats' sweeping win last week means they have a mandate that includes card check.

Besides, he says, business is opposed to card check and arbitration. "So it's hard to see what splitting the bill gets you," he said.



Blueskyboris said...

I think Congress and the future president have some options. For example, they should threaten to purge the entire bureaucracy of far right operatives if there is a filibuster while reminding the public that the Republicans did the same thing.

Blueskyboris said...

I think it is pretty sick when small town hall ballots, which were many times open ballots, are being derided here as anti-democratic. SHAME ON YOU, YOU ANTI-TOWN HALL CORPORATE HACKS>

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