Unions Continue to Push Card Check Legislation; Senate Fate Uncertain

By Pete Winn | February 1, 2009 | 11:43 PM EST

President Obama and labor leaders at the White House. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The Employee Free Choice Act may not be the slam dunk for Big Labor that labor union activists want the public to believe.
Known as “card check,” the bill is the centerpiece of Big Labor’s agenda for the Obama administration.
But on Friday, with top union leaders gathered at the White House for the president to sign three executive orders that apply to labor unions – including an order barring federal funds from being used to discourage a union -- no mention of the card check bill was made.
Labor union activists, meanwhile, refused on Friday to say when the bill might be brought up in Congress – or whether it has the votes to pass.
“We really don’t have a time line yet,” Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work, said at a news conference Friday. 
“We all know that this administration has a lot on its plate. I am absolutely confident that for the new administration and for the new Congress, this is a top priority, and we’re going to continue to build support for the Employee Free Choice Act until we’re ready to go when it’s the right time to move.”
Congressional Democrats are known to favor the bill, which would give unions the ability to organize and form a bargaining unit at a company simply by having workers sign a card, rather than voting in a secret ballot.
But its fate in the Senate is less clear. Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged a summertime vote, Maxwell refused to tell reporters how many votes the bill would garner.
“We’ve got majority support for this common-sense legislation – a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate; President Obama, Vice President Biden both support the Employee Free Choice Act – and the American people strongly support the Employee Free Choice Act,” she said.
Maxwell said a poll taken in Decmeber by Peter D. Hart and Associates found that 73 percent of Americans support the bill.
Michael Eastman, executive director of labor relations at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told CNSNews.com that the unions were predicting victory the last time the measure was brought up in Congress – but the measure failed in the Senate in  2007.
“They don’t have the best track record in counting votes,” Eastman told CNSNews.com. “We know its going to be extremely close and we’ll have to see how this plays out."
But Eastman said polls conducted for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, and released earlier in the week, found that 74 percent of all voters surveyed oppose the bill -- with only 15 percent expressing support.
Support in union households for the bill was scarcely better – only 20 percent supported the proposal. What’s more, he said, 72 percent of union households agreed that a binding arbitration provision in the legislation is “unwise” and “risky.”
Under the mandatory arbitration provision, workers and companies would have to begin collective bargaining within 10 days after a union is formed – and federal arbitrators would be called in to force a settlement on companies and unions who are unable to reach an agreement after 90 days.

The union advocacy group unveiled an ad campaign Friday – the latest in labor’s $10 million-plus campaign to get the legislation passed. Maxwell said the campaign is designed to point out that the bill – known as “card check” doesn’t do away with the right of employees to hold union elections.
“The Employee Free Choice Act will not eliminate the ability for workers to choose to have a secret ballot election,” Maxwell said. “What it will do is give that choice back to workers and not their employers.”
But Eastman said the claim is not new and business has never said that secret ballots would be forbidden – just that they would be made moot.
“I think it’s very clever that they try to spin by saying that the workers will have the decision, but at the end of the day it is the union organizers who will have the decision (whether to call an election),” Eastman said.
“While it’s technically true that a union could still get 30 percent of the workforce to sign cards and get an election, no union would ever do that,” Eastman said.
“Today they routinely get a majority of cards filed before they seek an election. And instead of an election this time, they could go straight to union recognition,” he added.