Card Check' Legislation on Front Burner

Opponents say loss of "secret ballot" will lead to union coercion, intimidation

WASHINGTON -- Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, and Representative George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education & Labor Committee, introduced legislation (H.R. 800) yesterday that supporters said would help enable workers to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions by restoring their rights to form unions.

"The current crisis has shown us the dangers of an economy that leaves working families behind. The people who work in our factories, build our roads, and care [image-nocss] for our children are the backbone of this great nation. The Employee Free Choice Act will give these hardworking men and women a greater voice in the decisions that affect their families and their futures. It's a critical step toward putting our economy back on track, and I hope that we can act quickly to send it to the President's desk," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.

"Just as the National Labor Relations Act, the 40 hour week and the minimum wage helped to pull us out of the Great Depression and into a period of unprecedented prosperity, so too will the Employee Free Choice Act help reinvigorate our economy," said committee member Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). "Today is one of those defining moments in history as we introduce legislation that puts power back into the hands of the people who are truly the backbone of this economy."

Representative George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education & Labor Committee, added, "Americans' wages have been stagnating or falling for the past decade. For far too long, we have seen corporate CEOs take care of themselves and shareholders at the expense of workers. If we want a fair and sustainable recovery from this economic crisis, we must give workers the ability to stand up for themselves and once again share in the prosperity they help to create."

But up to 600,000 American workers may lose their jobs next year if the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law, according to Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who opposes the legislation, calling it "a gift to union bosses that keeps on taking from America's workers."

He cited a study released by Dr. Anne Layne-Farrar, an economist with the non-partisan firm LECG Consulting. The just-released study projects that the unionization of 1.5 million existing jobs under the card check bill would cause 600,000 Americans to lose their jobs the following year. The study, which examines the economic toll inflicted in Canada since similar laws were enacted, concluded that every 3% increase in union membership through card check would lead to a 1% increase in the unemployment rate.

Click herefor the full report, An Empirical Assessment of the Employee Free Choice Act: The Economic Implications.

Opponents of this "card check" legislation said that it removes the secret-balloting process for workers voting whether to unionize. Instead, workers would be forced to vote publicly in front of a union representative leaving workers open to coercion and intimidation. "With union membership sliding from 20% in 1983 to 12% of the labor force today, unions see 'card check' enactment as the single most important step toward reversing their loss of power," the Petroleum Marketers Association of America said in its most recent PMAA Capitol Hill News.

The U.S. Chamber of Congress opposes card check legislation and has already flown in approximately 150 executives from local businesses and chambers of commerce to talk about the problems they see if the legislation is passed. (Click here for details.)

Card check legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, PMAA said. First, House and Senate leadership have not indicated when they might bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Second, it is still uncertain whether moderate Democrats and Republicans will support the legislation, and the Senate must obtain the necessary 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.

PMAA will continue to oppose the card check legislation, the group said.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) also is urging Congress to reject "card-check" legislation. "Secret ballot elections are a cornerstone of American democracy," NRF vice president for Government and political affairs Rob Green said. "Voters have a secret ballot when they go to the polls on Election Day, Congress has a secret ballot when lawmakers choose the leaders of the House and Senate, and we believe workers deserve a secret ballot when they choose whether to be represented by a union. We must not allow this fundamental right to be taken away."

He added, "The Employee Free Choice Act would actually take 'free choice' away from workers and should be opposed by all members of Congress who support the democratic process both in politics and the workplace."

The act would eliminate the National Labor Relations Act requirement that union representation be decided in secret ballot elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. Instead, the NLRB would be required to recognize a union if presented with signed authorization cards from a majority of workers. Under the legislation, union organizers, not the federal government, would oversee the process, effectively eliminating the employer from the election process. NRF is concerned because it said that there are many examples where card check elections have been challenged on the basis of coercion, misrepresentation, forgery, fraud, peer pressure and promised benefits.

In addition, the legislation would automatically cut off negotiations over first union contracts if an agreement had not been reached in 120 days, instead requiring the parties to engage in binding interest arbitration. For the first time, employers and employees would be taken out of the negotiation process and government officials would be given unprecedented power to set wages and employment conditions in businesses across the country, the group said.Defeating card-check legislation is also a top priority of the National Restaurant Association, that group said. "The National Restaurant Association is strongly opposed to the misleadingly titled Employee Free Choice Act, a bill proposing dramatic and harmful changes to U.S. labor law. Currently, employees are entitled to a private-ballot election when deciding whether they want union representation in their workplace. Should Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act, employees effectively lose their right to private-ballot elections.... Moving to a card-check process rather than a federally supervised election is a clear violation of employee rights and one that will subject employees to pressure and intimidation," the group said in a statement.

"We have been working with our strong grassroots network of restaurateurs from across the country and our state restaurant association partners to actively oppose this bill. Yesterday, our office was picketed by Washington, D.C.-based union protesters, attempting to intimidate us much as they would employees under the flawed card check process. Just as our employees don't like being pressured on decisions, neither does the National Restaurant Association. Our voices are being heard by lawmakers, and we believe that Congress will do the right thing and protect the right to a private ballot," it added.
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