Despite Obama's Plea, No Compromise on Card-Check Legislation Likely

By Pete Winn | May 15, 2009 | 6:23 PM EDT

President Barack Obama speaks about credit card debt reform at a town hall style gathering at Rio Rancho High School in Rio Rancho, N.M., Thursday, May 14, 2009. (AP photo)

( – The controversial card-check bill, a sought-after boon to labor unions, is stuck in Congress, and although President Obama is pushing for a compromise, both sides seem dead-set against one.
In an appearance last Thursday in Rio Rancho, N.M., Obama admitted that card check -- the so-called Employee Free Choice Act – is stalled, and he talked about the possibility of a compromise.
“I think that there may be areas of compromise to get this bill done,” Obama said. “I'm supportive of it. But there aren't enough votes right now in the Senate to get it passed. And what I think we have to do is to find ways in which the core idea of the Employee Free Choice Act is preserved, which is, how do we make it easier for people who want to form a union to at least get a vote and have an even playing field? How do we do that, but at the same time get enough votes to pass the bill?
“That's what we're working on right now. I think it's going to have a chance at passage but there's still more work to be done.”
The unions behind the controversial bill say no compromise is acceptable unless it contains all the “core principles” or provisions of the original  – and those opposed to the legislation say no bill that contains any of those provisions would be acceptable. 

Under card-check, workers could form unions at worksites if over 50 percent of the workers sign union cards -- bypassing the current requirement of a secret ballot. It would also require mandatory binding arbitration if a union local and an employer fail to agree on a first contract within 90 days.

Josh Goldstein, spokesman for American Rights at Work, a union-sponsored think-tank that is spearheading the effort to enact card-check through a $10 million dollar campaign – including television ads – applauded the president for his endorsement. 

“What we can’t compromise on are the fundamentals which the Employee Free Choice Act are built upon,” Goldstein told, “and that’s creating a fair and direct path for workers to form unions, having real penalties for employers who violate the law and helping workers and employers get to a first contract in a reasonable period of time.” 

Goldstein said the president acknowledged the fact that a compromise could not breach the “core principles” could not in his comments. 

“But whatever proposal actually does come out it must remain true to those three fundamental principles, and whatever piece of legislation, that is how it will be judged,” he added. 

But Brewster Bevis, senior director of legislative affairs at Associated Builders and Contractors, said opponents of the bill see no room for compromise on this issue.
“This bill is a job killer and this bill is bad, and there is no way out there to make this bill more palatable for ABC’s members,” Bevis told “We recently sent a letter to the Hill from 3,000 of our members saying that there is no room for compromise on this bill.”

The association represents thousands of construction companies and contractors across the country.

“Obviously, advocates of EFCA realize they have been taking a shellac-ing on this bill, and realize that some of their past supporters have defected to the camp of ‘This is bad for the economy, this isn’t what we need right now.’ And they are looking to broker some kind of deal in order to get those folks back in their camp.” 

The bill’s principal co-sponsor, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), is reportedly working on a compromise bill.  
“I think what it speaks to is that leaders in Congress and the president understand that our labor laws are severely broken and they are looking for solutions to level the playing field for workers to once again have the ability to bargain and not borrow their way back into the middle class.”
“I am sure there are several people out there working on compromise bills,” Bevis said. “But there is nothing in that bill that is acceptable to my members. Binding arbitration would be as objectionable as the loss of the secret ballot.”

Unions have made the card-check bill the centerpiece of their legislative agenda.