Employee Free Choice Without Card Check: "Card Check Lite?"

Business interests aren't embracing the revised Employee Free Choice Act.

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In an effort to get moderate Democrats in the Senate on board with the Employee Free Choice Act, the key "card check" provision of the bill has been scrapped, the NYTimes is reporting. Opponents centered their fight around this section of the legislation, which would allow workers to form unions by signing cards instead of holding a secret ballot election. But the fight isn't over--even if card check is scuttled--as opponents are taking aim at possible revisions.

[See 5 things to know about the Employee Free Choice Act]

Business interests have argued that card check would make workers vulnerable to union intimidation, while unions argued that the existing process of holding secret ballot elections has left workers open to intimidation and threats from employers. To form a union now, at least 30 percent of workers must sign cards indicating they want a union before they can hold an election, then a majority must vote to organize. During the election process, some employees have been subjected to "threats, interrogation, harassment, surveillance, and retaliation for union activity," according to the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank focused on labor issues that receives some funding from unions.

The NYTimes reports the revised EFCA "would require shorter unionization campaigns and faster elections," no doubt a provision intended to reduce worker vulnerability to employer intimidation. As reported, the election could be required to be held between five and 10 days after 30 percent of workers have signed cards.

Card check was a major point of contention for business interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who have insisted the anonymity of secret ballots is crucial to a fair vote. But cutting out card check has not made the bill palatable, says Glenn Spencer, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's EFCA-fighting Workforce Freedom Initiative. The "quickie election" provision would be tantamount to "card check lite," Spencer says, insisting the tighter timeframe would compromise the ability of employers to make their case to workers before they vote.

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Other possible revisions to the bill include granting union organizers access onto business property--a revision the chamber would oppose. Perhaps the group's biggest beef is that the bill retains a provision that would speed up the often lengthy contract negotiations by allowing either employers or unions to request federal mediators if agreement hasn't been reached within 90 days of bargaining. If the mediators don't succeed, government-appointed arbitrators would be brought in to decide the contracts. The chamber has argued that arbitrators could force employers into contracts that would threaten their financial positions.

For their part, the unions are not giving up on secret ballots. SEIU president Andy Stern said in a statement this morning:

“As we have said from day one, majority signup is the best way for workers to have the right to choose a voice at their workplace. The Employee Free Choice Act is going through the usual legislative process, and we expect a vote on a majority signup provision in the final bill or by amendment in both houses of Congress.


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