One of the most controversial issues before the U.S. Congress today, unions vs. industry, has become known as the Card Check Act.
The Card Check Act is a bill filed jointly in both Houses of Congress by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., titled the Employee Free Choice Act of 2009. It is identical to the one passed by the House in 2007 but never brought to a vote in the Senate because of a threatened Republican-led filibuster.
The Card Check Act provides measures that would eliminate an employer's ability to require a secret ballot if the employees attempt to gain union representation. Instead, a union could be certified if 50 percent plus one of those working at a particular site sign cards asking for a union, creating a "card check" system.
Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), says this simpler procedure is needed to keep employers from intimidating workers who try to unionize.
Glenn Spencer, who heads the Workforce Freedom Initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an effort to stop card check, argues that the loss of the secret ballot will simply allow labor organizers to coerce their co-workers into joining a union whether they want to or not.
Alec MacGillis of The Washington Post writes: "Get ready for one of the nastiest fights of President Obama's still-young first term as opponents of the Employees Free Choice Act come out in force."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce lost no time in bringing 200 chamber members from around the country on Tuesday, March 10, to lobby U.S. Senators who will decide the bill's fate. The chamber members are billing their action as a "Workforce Freedom Airlift."
The Chattanooga Times editorialized, "It is ironic that union organizers are pursuing a proposal in Congress that is dishonestly titled "Employee Free Choice Act — but would deny real free-choice secret ballots and (instead) substitute card checks by union organizers."
A move to counter union "card checks" is under way with the introduction of a bill sponsored by Tennessee Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander titled, "The Secret Ballot Provisions Act of 2009," which is intended to amend the National Labor Relations Act to guarantee workers a right to a vote by secret ballot on whether or not to join a labor union.
Senator Alexander said there are few American rights more fundamental than the secret ballot, whether it's a vote for President, Mayor, or to unionize a work place. American workers deserve to be able to vote their consciences without having to worry about potential retaliation."
Unions have served the nation well with respect to well-intended collective bargaining efforts with American business and industry. Unions have served the nation less well when they take the all-too-often stonewalling attitude in critical labor situations.
So important is the defense of the Card Check Act that corporate America may be contributing as much as $200 million to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act, according to Illinois Americans for Prosperity.
What is not being so loudly debated in public is a provision of the Employee Free Choice Act that deals with mediation once a labor organization has been formed. Under present law, management and a new union now are obligated to bargain in good faith to negotiate a contract. If agreement is not reached, the union could strike.
Under the new legislation if the two parties cannot reach agreement, either may request mediation from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The decision of the arbitration panel is binding for two years.
“This is the provision of the Employee Free Choice Act that the business community is determined to defeat,” writes Lynn Barnett in a letter to the editor of the Chicago Daily Herald. “It will provide labor with a powerful tool for collective bargaining which has been absent for generations.” Barnett sees “a strong labor movement as good for the economy and good for working families.”
Fred Mendelsohn, in a publication called Industrial Distribution, wrote of binding mediation, “The result in a nutshell: Control over wages and other conditions of employment vests in a third-party government official who is not accountable to or for the employer's business.”
There appears to be majority support in the House of Representatives — with 222 co-sponsors — but 60 votes will be needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster.
The 2007 Card Check bill garnered 52 Senate votes. Composition has changed in favor of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate since the last election.
At present there are 58 Democrat senators, with one seat in question. In the event that challenged Democrat Al Franken is selected following the Minnesota Court decisions on the state's second Senator, the Democrats would hold a nearly veto-proof majority.
E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and agricultural publisher, also is a national and local award-winning columnist. He welcomes comments by e-mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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