Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 3, 2008

OBAMA STILL SUPPORTS EFCA.... Rahm Emanuel recently spoke at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council conference, and explained that Barack Obama would pursue an ambitious agenda, and planned to "throw long and deep." A member of the business audience asked about Obama's support for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to form unions through a "card check" process. Emanuel responded, "Let me take your question and go somewhere else."

The obviously evasive response drew chuckles, but generated some doubts. Was Emanuel signaling wavering support for EFCA, or was he simply trying to emphasize areas of agreement between Obama and the business crowd, trying to lighten the mood on a contentious issue?

This helps bring some clarity.

An aide to Barack Obama reaffirmed the President-elect's support for the labor movement's chief legislative priority in a one-word statement issued to the Huffington Post on late Tuesday.

Asked if Obama's support for the Employee Free Choice Act remained as strong as his public proclamations suggested on the campaign trail, transition spokesman Dan Pfeiffer responded, succinctly, "Yes."

The reaffirmation may not seem like a political breakthrough on its surface. But in the current political climate, in which the Obama team has steadfastly refused to comment on various legislative priorities, it does signal that the President-elect is not shying away from progressive pledges made during his campaign.

It sounds encouraging to me.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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Well, I can't expect to agree with him on everything. This is a bad law, period. Obama and everyone who will vote on this law were elected by secret ballot. Why deny that to those in choosing whether or not to be represented by a CBA? Unions are a relic of the past with no interest in anything but their own preservation. Passing this law will ensure that continuance, but will do nothing to revive the economy.

Posted by: David on December 3, 2008 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Based on what he has done so far to change Washington, that support is going to be like going from creating 2.5 million jobs to creating or saving 2.5 million jobs. The trick is how you count "saving" 2.5 million jobs.

Posted by: Michael on December 3, 2008 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

I only understand the edges of this issue, but currently my feelings are leaning towards the ones expressed by David above.

Mr. Benen, if you would care to write a post explaining why this law is a good idea, I would very much like to read it.

Posted by: TG Chicago on December 3, 2008 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

To echo David, I don't know a whole lot about this proposed legislation but recall an op-ed by George McGovern (I think?) in the WSJ a few months ago arguing that the effect of eliminating unionization by secret ballot would be disastrous. Some amplification as to why this is a good idea would be welcome.

Posted by: JRD on December 3, 2008 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

I would like to understand this issue better too. I grew up favoring unions, because my parents did. They remembered the time before unions. Then they seemed to get out of hand and corrupt.

My husband was in education, first as a teacher and then an administrator. It seemed as they were all working together for the kids before teacher unions, under the National Education Association. After teachers unionized there seemed to be a shift in focus, to salary and benefits. Not that they didn't need it!

Funny, our children should be our most important resource, but compare their pay with CEOs of any corporation. Ludicrous!

Posted by: Mari on December 3, 2008 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Count me puzzled by EFCA, too.
What problem does it solve?

Posted by: airron on December 3, 2008 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Obama and everyone who will vote on this law were elected by secret ballot. Why deny that to those in choosing whether or not to be represented by a CBA?

As I understand it, the current "secret" elections aren't exactly secret. Management can delay the elections for as long as they like; they can hold mandatory meetings to tell people how horrible it would be to have a union; they can fire the people trying to organize a union; they can threaten to close down the company if they unionize.

Card check basically allows union organizers to get people on their side without interference from management. The fact that we've gotten to this point because of the actions of management is pretty sad, but it's very misleading to call what union organizers have now "secret" elections.

This article in Business Week has statements from both sides, which is more than you can say about the Heritage Foundation's campaign against it.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on December 3, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Obama and everyone who will vote on this law were elected by secret ballot. Why deny that to those in choosing whether or not to be represented by a CBA?

Mnemosyne has the key details of the case in support of EFCA. If voters for political candidates were subject to the same kinds of pressures that workers face during campaigns for certification, we'd have good reason to question the legitimacy of those results too.

One additional consideration is that EFCA doesn't deny workers an opportunity to have a secret ballot election if enough of them (30%) want one.

Posted by: Jeremy Buchman on December 3, 2008 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Sometimes you can tell a lot about an issue by looking at those lining up against it.

I too would like to know more about it, but it will likely be a cold day in hell when I come down on the side of Wal-Mart concerning labor.

Posted by: doubtful on December 3, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Secret ballot sounds good until you look at how it works in practise. At a competitng business in my town, the employees tried to join a union a few years back. The management at the firm fired the organizers. Because it is a seasonal operation, they brought in lots of new help next season and the vote to unionize failed.

Card check would have likely resulted in a union shop. That's why the GOP is opposed to EFCA. BTW: workers earnings have lost 50% of their earning power over the past twenty years in my industry.

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 3, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Ditto to Doubtful, @ 12:09,

I'm as uncertain about the ins and outs of card-check vs secret ballot but, judging by who is against the card check, I'm automatically for it. Call in a knee-jerk reaction :)

Posted by: exlibra on December 3, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

It seems like there are plenty of ways to deter management abuse without doing away with the secret ballot, which seems only to encourage union abuse. Greater oversight by the Department of Labor and a private cause of action for retaliation against unionization efforts, for example. The fact that the current system has flaws doesn't mean that ECFA's procedure is better, and I've yet to be convinced that it is.

Posted by: JRD on December 3, 2008 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

I see the Right as determined to destroy the UAW with the recent automaker troubles, and any other Union it can.

The problem isn't Unions. The problem is that we don't have enough Unions.

Unions, and labor organization, represent a healthy expression of human worth and personal self-esteem. These people have stood up for themselves.

All of the non-union workers I know feel more like victims to me. They take whatever the company gives them, and trust the company to look out for their best interests. That to me is a sure sign of low self-esteem, low self-worth.

Instead of American workers, the non-union types, fighting for benefits that fellow Union and European workers enjoy, they'd rather sell their lives short and take less than they deserve; to bring everyone down to their lowest common denominator.

I hope that Obama pursues this, along with eradicating tax breaks for businesses that move their work out of America.

Posted by: JWK on December 3, 2008 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

All of you need to wake up! As a union organizer in Chicago (a place where unions are supposedly "strong") I can tell you there is no secret ballot now but a system of ballot stuffing by managment and corporations. As an example: currently when a shop of 20 people in my industry filed a request with the NLRB for a union certification election the first thing the owner did was fire the three suspected organizers(illegal but who in the bush DOL would enforce that anyway?) They were replace by three family members(ringers for a no vote}. They then for the next six weeks threatened, propagandized, intimidated and harrased the remaining employees(all illegal but again, who would enforce this?)to the point of fear. When the election was held the vote was 9-6 in favor. However, 5 members of the bagaining unit were to scared to vote and any abstention counts as a vote against certification(imagine if in the presidential election obama wins 60 to 40% of 150 million votes cast but the 50 million people who do not vote all count for McCain because they are after all not voting for Obama?) And even if the vote was 11 to 9 the owner has no time frame to come to terms and will just drag his or her feet until yes voters quit or are fired and then calls for another certification vote that they will now win. It is ballot box stuffing on a Stalinist scale AND IT MUST END! Do not fall for the reactionary framing of "secret ballot" this an obfuscation like "death tax" and "Partial birth abortion". The middle class is being destroyed and lack of union membership or prevention of is the major reason. The EFCA is the answer, Obama is right about this and if any of you are able to think and not be cowed by corporate anti democratic propaganda, you will support it as well.

Posted by: The voice of reason on December 3, 2008 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK



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