A handful of senators decided to drop the so-called card-check provision from the controversial Employee Free Choice Act, according to a report by the New York Times.
The legislation would have allowed workers to organize simply by handing in enough cards expressing their preference. Under card check, union membership rose steadily during the past century until 1947, when Congress, under pressure from business, began requiring secret ballot elections.
Unions claim the election campaigns allow management to dissuade workers with threats. On the other hand, businesses argue that card check allows unions to pressure workers unduly to organize, according to a report in the Las Vegas Sun.
When President Barack Obama was in the Senate, he was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation. He declared during his presidential campaign that he would make card check “the law of the land when I'm president of the United States,” according to a report by Forbes.com.
The Employee Free Choice Act passed the House in 2007 but died in the Senate. It was resurrected in the current Congress.
The senators who tossed the provision did so to help firm up a filibuster-proof 60 votes, according to the Times. The paper cited the fate of card check as an “example of the power of moderate Democrats to constrain their party’s more liberal legislative efforts.”
With several moderate Democrats opposing the card-check provision as undemocratic, the 60-40 Democratic vote advantage in the Senate and President Obama’s support for the measure were trumped.
As a quid-pro-quo in the revised bill, there are provisions requiring shorter unionization campaigns and faster elections, according to the Times. Under the revisions, union elections would have to take place within five or 10 days after 30 percent of workers signed cards favoring having a union. Now, such campaigns may run as long as two months.
Union leaders see this as an important gain because it would diminish the time companies have to press workers to vote against unionizing.
“This bill will bring about dramatic changes, even if card check has fallen away,” one A.F.L.-C.I.O. official told the Times. “Our goals have always been letting employees have a real choice, having real penalties against employers who break the law in fighting unions, and having some form of binding arbitration to prevent employers from dragging their feet forever to prevent reaching a contract.”
“This is a very emotional issue,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. “I cannot remember an issue this emotional in all my years in the Senate.”
Even with card check removed, the bill still has some sharp issues alive and open to debate. One would require employers to give union organizers access to company property. Another would proscribe employers from requiring workers to attend anti-union sessions.
Politico's Ben Smith reports that early reaction from AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale is positive, despite card check's having been dropped from the bill:
"As School House Rock taught us, this is the normal process of how a bill becomes a law. We are very optimistic about passing the strongest labor law reform since the Wagner Act — one that lets workers choose to join a union without intimidation or harassment, ensures that workers who join a union get a first contract, and has meaningful penalties for violations."
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