Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 22, 2009

EFCA 'COMPROMISE'?.... With the upcoming fight over the Employee Free Choice Act certain to be contentious, three companies with a fairly progressive reputation -- Costco, Starbucks, and Whole Foods -- are looking for a "third way."

The companies, calling themselves the "Committee for a Level Playing Field," not surprisingly, oppose EFCA. They have, however, put together an alternative that they see as a compromise measure.

Their proposal would maintain management's right to demand a secret-ballot election and would leave out binding arbitration. The proposal would keep the third main element of card check -- toughening the penalties for companies that retaliate against workers before union elections or refuse to engage in collective bargaining. But it would also toughen penalties for union violations, and it would make it easier for businesses to call elections to try to decertify a union.

To address labor's concern that businesses intimidate workers before elections, it would set a fixed period in which an election must be held, limiting the delays that give employers time to exert pressure. The proposal does not specify what the time period should be.

The proposal would also provide unions equal access to workers before elections -- for instance, by allowing organizers to address workers on a lunch break in the company cafeteria just as management can.

"We wanted to see what we can do to come up with a compromise position that is going to address the concerns of labor and also protect the sanctity of the collective bargaining process and secret ballot," said Costco Wholesale chief executive James D. Sinegal.

Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Clinton, is reportedly helping to push this compromise, and told the Post that he's received positive feedback from about 20 Senate offices. We don't know which 20, but not surprisingly, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, a right-leaning Democrat who may break with his party over EFCA, said the proposal "could result in a reasonable compromise."

It's too soon to say whether this measure will gain traction, but the anti-union forces have already denounced the compromise measure -- the Workforce Fairness Institute used phrases like "non-starter," "even worse," and "beyond absurd" -- almost immediately. The AFL-CIO was similarly wary, though obviously for different reasons.

Stay tuned.

Update: By the way, the proposal for the "Committee for a Level Playing Field" might sound familiar to regular readers of the Monthly. A couple of issues ago, we ran a provocative piece by T.A. Frank with a related recommendation:

"The question, then, is how much of a fight the card check provision merits. And the answer is probably a little, but not a lot. What most undermines the secret-ballot process is that employers can violate the law in numerous ways without consequences. Under EFCA, however, every illegal action has the potential to be costly, so firings, spying, threats, or other forms of intimidation would be less likely. Also, there is an alternative way to preserve the secret ballot while guarding against company malfeasance: expedited elections. Under current law, months can go by between when NLRB announces the results of a card check vote and when a secret-ballot election is held. If, however, this campaign window were reduced to just a few days, employers would have less opportunity to intimidate union supporters into changing their minds. Workers I spoke to in Lancaster seemed content with this alternative. And some savvy people in the labor movement I spoke to feel the same way -- provided that employers either refrain from captive-audience campaigning or else grant union members equal access to the workplace during a campaign."

Second Update: I spoke this morning with a committee aide that Democratic leaders on the House Committee on Education and Labor will not accept this compromise, because the arbitration element of EFCA cannot be removed. Something to keep in mind.

Third Update: A spokesperson for the House Education and Labor Committee further clarifies that Chairman Miller also continues to oppose dropping the provision that gives the choice of workers to organize through majority signup.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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Comments

This "third way" compromise has a bed feeling to it. It's nothing more than a "watering'down" of long-overdue legislation in the realm of labor rights---and the "anti-union forces" came out with their detailed objections much too quickly to have thoroughly examined the nuances of the compromise, which gives me the feeling that they knew about this third-way rubbish before it was released.

Rule Number One: If you want your opponent to think legislation you favor is good, then you need to be ready to badmouth it to Hades and back the moment it's announced.

Posted by: Steve W. on March 22, 2009 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

the NLRB does not enforce existing labor laws. Why should any one believe they will enforce new laws?

Posted by: tom p on March 22, 2009 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

the NLRB does not enforce existing labor laws. Why should any one believe they will enforce new laws?

Correction: The Bushylvanian NLRB did not enforce existing labor laws; they watered them down and executive-ordered them out of existence with a politicized GOP sock-puppet rendition of what enforcement ought to be.

Posted by: Steve W. on March 22, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

I have to agree w/ tom p on NLRB enforcement. The additional penalties (or "teeth" of the proposal) will be rendered meaningless if enforcement (the mouth) is inconsistent or worse--slow.

Posted by: tec619 on March 22, 2009 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

So after everything labor did to get Democrats elected, they will refuse to deliver on labor's #1 priority (meanwhile happily abrogating UAW contracts while treating bonuses for Wall Street fraudsters as sacred.)

Anybody expecting to see such a big labor effort on behalf of Democrats again in 2010 and 2012? I'm not.

Crapping on your base, yeah, that's the way to consolidate political power!

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on March 22, 2009 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Why do so many believe the Democratic leadership is in lock step with the union movement? Check out David Sirota's excellent article at Salon, where he begins with the wise words of Lee Girard, the head of the Steelworkers. Girard says that "those who shower before work" are treated differently from "those who shower after work". Geithner and Summers and their ilk love to support those before showerers. On another thread, I mentioned that even Kevin Drum thought the NYC Transit workers were over paid. A poster named karin marie, mistakenly, thought I, somehow was anti-union. No, karin marie, having been a Teamster and a Locomotive Engineers and Firemen member at various times of my life, I, definitely support the after shower crowd. The AIG group and others of their ilk appear to more of the "Golden Showers" types.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 22, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Oh stop it. If these enforcement provisions are a bad idea now, why were they utterly essential in the original bill? I've heard weeks and weeks of 60s style posturing about why these provisions were necessary - now suddenly they are no good?

Ditching secret elections was always an odd place to make a stand. It could only be defended on the idea that unions are without sin and never do anything wrong. A position at odds both with democratic theory (that all power must be accountable) and actual history. Why should we be afraid of elections? Don't we actually win them?

That the compromise is rabidly opposed by the big companies is proof that they really aren't interested in fairness in regard to labor relations. And evidence that they will have some impact.

So, lets do tighten up these provisions, put real people on the NLRB and see what happens.

Posted by: JohnN on March 22, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

"The proposal would also provide unions equal access to workers before elections -- for instance, by allowing organizers to address workers on a lunch break in the company cafeteria just as management can."

With management there video-taping everyone who is in attendance and taking names of those who applaud anything the unions say. All attendees get a warning that their performance is lagging, while those applauding get fired immediately.

Geez. How stupid do they think the unions are?

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on March 22, 2009 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, JohnN, the bill did NOT "ditch secret elections." Read up a bit, would you. It offers card checks as an alternative to elections, not as a replacement for them.

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 22, 2009 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

If Lanny Davis is going to be one of their main pushers, then I'm just going to assume this is one of the worst ideas in the history of the world without bothering to read the fine print. Lanny Davis pretty much equals fail.

Posted by: Shalimar on March 22, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

John,

"Ditching secret elections was always an odd place to make a stand."

Good thing then that the EFCA doesn't, eh ?

Posted by: Joe Friday on March 22, 2009 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

What scares me is the fact that the group is trying to take out the mandatory binding arbitration after 90 days. This is the best part of the bill and I think the one companies are really afraid of. The mediators must be fair and may side frequently with the employees on their terms of the deal. Employers will be unable to drag out decisions. They can do that now for weeks, months and even years. It keeps employers from using the time to discourage and intimidate employees so that the employees will change the terms or just think it was not worth the effort and just give up on pursuing the deal.

The card check/secret ballot crap is a smokescreen. Employers to do want mandatory arbitration. They chance to lose if arbitration is put into place.

Posted by: Cleo on March 22, 2009 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Sarah Barracuda: "With management there video-taping everyone who is in attendance and taking names of those who applaud anything the unions say. All attendees get a warning that their performance is lagging, while those applauding get fired immediately.
Geez. How stupid do they think the unions are?"

I know nothing about unions either in my country or yours but confess the prejudice that in Canada it is the unions that have the unfair advantage. I remember a friend, a part-time employee at an organization undergoing a union drive, deeply distressed, feeling the union was providing misleading information, and under our applicable law, the employer was not allowed to respond.

Each side has an incentive to cheat; therefore the importance of rules that minimize cheating, and are as fair as possible. The goal should be to provide a level playing field, not unfairly favour one side or the other. How about some or more of the following.

1. union gets x% (40 or 50%) of employees to sign desiring union vote, and presents to company.

2. vote must be held no less than 30 days nor more than 60 days after step 1.

3. During period must be at least one meeting with Union and management representatives present to state case and answer questions- right to respond by both sides. Both sides right to review all written material prior to distribution and most include any response from other side.

4. During the period management cannot fire or demote anyone for any reason without consent of union official.

If there is merit, feel free to use!

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on March 22, 2009 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Cal Gal and Joe Friday:

Oh, I do understand. This is an Official Liberal Progressive Good Thing, so declared and thus all thought is prohibited. Any deviation is verboten.

I do know what the bill provides - a minority can eliminate an election. Of course, it doesn't prohibit elections by law, just eliminates them in fact.

And my point remains: why are all the other union protections in the bill of no interest to the left unless mandatory elections are removed? And why are you afraid of an election?

Posted by: JohnN on March 22, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

John,

"Oh, I do understand. This is an Official Liberal Progressive Good Thing, so declared and thus all thought is prohibited. Any deviation is verboten."

Obviously, you DO NOT "understand".

Your previous posting, claiming that the EFCA involves "ditching secret elections", is FALSE.


I do know what the bill provides - a minority can eliminate an election."

No, that is NOT "what the bill provides".


"Of course, it doesn't prohibit elections by law, just eliminates them in fact."

Both assertions are FALSE.


"And my point remains: why are all the other union protections in the bill of no interest to the left unless mandatory elections are removed?"

There are no "mandatory elections" under current law.


"And why are you afraid of an election?"

The EFCA provides for elections.

Posted by: Joe Friday on March 22, 2009 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Actually Costco and Starbucks are pretty good with their employees. A young friend of mine worked for just under three months at a Starbucks before the store closed and they actually gave her severance pay. She would have gotten health insurance after 3 months had she not been let go (employees are eligible if they work 20 or more hours a week). An adult friend works full time for Costco and loves it - and he has a family (his wife works also). He has no interest in finding other work; his pay and benefits are good. He told me they are good with scheduling if you have conflicts, such as college classes, etc. So Costco must be doing something right.

Meanwhile my son worked for a time at a place that was unionized... and made all of 10 cents an hour over minimum wage and his dues were $25/mo. I think he ended up losing money as compared to plain old working at minimum wage. I do respect unions, that they have helped workers, but don't think they're the be all and end all... responsible companies can do right by their employees, too.

Posted by: Me on March 22, 2009 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

"An adult friend works full time for Costco and loves it - and he has a family (his wife works also). He has no interest in finding other work; his pay and benefits are good."

That's because many Costco locations are unionized, and even those that are not pattern their pay & benefit packages and labor standards after the union contracts.

Posted by: Joe Friday on March 22, 2009 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

Repeal Taft-Hartley. Those fucks claim to advocate the "free market." Hold them to it.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on March 23, 2009 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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