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Employers Face a Union-Fed Vice By: E. Ralph Hostetter
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 19, 2009

One of the most controversial issues before the U.S. Congress today is the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act, more commonly known as the “card-check” bill. The act was filed jointly in both Houses of Congress by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-MA, and Rep. George Miller, D-CA. It is identical to the one passed by the House of Representatives in 2007 but never brought to a vote in the Senate because of a threatened Republican filibuster.

The act would eliminate an employer's ability to require a secret ballot in elections to authorize union representation for workers. A union could be certified if 50 percent plus one of those present publicly sign-off on cards requesting union representation.

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, says this simpler procedure is needed to keep employers from intimidating workers who try to unionize.

Glenn Spencer, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, an effort to stop card-check, argues that the loss of the secret ballot would allow labor organizers to coerce workers into joining a union whether they want to or not.

Washington Post reporter Alec MacGillis recently wrote: "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."

On March 10, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lost no time flying in 200 members from around the country to lobby the key legislators who will decide the bill's fate. 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 the ‘Employee Free Choice Act’ but would deny real free-choice secret ballots and (instead) substitute card-checks by union organizers."

A move to counter card-check is under way with the introduction of a bill co-sponsored by Senators Bob Corker, R-TN, and Lamar Alexander, R-TN, entitled, "The Secret Ballot Provisions Act," which is intended to amend the National Labor Relations Act so that workers would be guaranteed the right to a vote by secret ballot on whether to join a labor union.

Sen. 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."

What is not receiving enough public attention is a provision of the Employee Free Choice Act which deals with mediation once a labor organization has been formed. Under present law, management and a new union are obligated to bargain in good faith to negotiate a contract. If agreement is not reached, the union can strike.

Under the new legislation, if the two parties cannot reach an agreement, either side 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 act that the business community is determined to defeat.

Fred Mendelsohn, in Industrial Distribution, wrote of the proposed binding mediation in a brief article called Examining the Employee Free Choice Act, “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 is 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 got 52 Senate votes.

The composition of the Senate has changed in favor of the Democrats since the last election. Indeed, some moderate Democrats, such as Senators Ben Nelson, D-NE; Mark Warner, D-VA; Mark Pryor, D-AR; and Blanche Lincoln, D-AR; have expressed skepticism about the bill. It is, therefore, possible that act will be defeated; this would be a victory for small businesses across America.

E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and publisher, is an award-winning columnist and Vice Chairman of the Free Congress Foundation Board of Directors.

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