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Here comes card-check/EFCA: Another bipartisan bridge to nowhere

March 10, 2009 |  5:20 pm

Then candidate Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois shaking hands with Teamsters president Jim Hoffa upon the union endorsing the now president in 2008

Big day today for heated controversy in D.C. Maybe you felt the heat on the side of your face facing East. And it's not going away for many months. Count on it.

Democrats, now obviously controlling Capitol Hill and the White House, introduced a long-promised, eagerly anticipated, much-dreaded, surely divisive, middle-class-encouraging, job-threatening piece of legislation in both houses to change the way American workers can opt for or against union representation at the plant.

Democrats call it the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA; store that one in your cranial RAM as you'll hear it often). Republicans and employers call it "card check." (Ditto.) Right now, in a vote to decide whether a plant will have a union, workers have the right to a secret ballot. (See amazing Teamsters news release below.) The unions and their supporters want a simple nonsecret card where workers could check "yes" or "no," likely in the presence of a persuasive union official.

Unions claim elections are costly and time-consuming, allowing employers to make a case against voting yes. Employers say two union officials showing up at a worker's door, asking him to....

...check a card, is potentially intimidating. And what's wrong with neither employer nor union knowing how anyone votes with the good old all-American secret ballot?

Unions have seen their memberships dwindle to around 12% of the workforce currently. They claim more members would increase the middle class. Employers say more militant unions mean more jobs overseas.

President Obama and many Democrats "support" card check publicly. And the union memberships, their donations and ads certainly played more than a 12% role in electing him and them last year. So labor feels it's time for payback. Or retribution.

Secretly, however, Democratic leadership is wary, especially with so many other issues on the table right now, mainly economic and often involving management. Plus after Obama's speech today you must add a complete national education overhaul to the spending/shopping/fighting list.

Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill said as recently as Sunday she's unsure if her party has the 60 Senate votes necessary (meaning they don't), even if Al Franken ever gets a validated ticket out of Minnesota. And Nebraska's moderate Democratic senator, Ben Nelson, announced today he's agin it.

So what to do? As ever, Washington's answer is talk and fight. It'll be a lucrative five or six months at least for those (in)famous lobbyists, who don't mind being much-hated as long as they're much-paid. ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports today that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won't bring the measure up until summer at the earliest, possibly July.

In the House, where support is greater, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken a firm, unequivocal stand to wait and see the Senate outcome. Our colleague Frank James has more reaction over in the Swamp.

As for the president, well, as often seems to happen, he can be read two ways. Obama thinks unions are important, workers have lost leverage, wages have flat-lined, he agrees with the "basic outlines" of EFCA and, of course, President Bush screwed it up.

But in the same Washington Post interview, Obama also expressed willingness to talk with management about tweaks and modifications. Which, concerning ballot secrecy at least, seems to some like debating pregnancy: You are or you aren't; it is or it isn't.

Then, Obama warned that "in terms of timetable," losing a half-million (potential union) jobs a month in a souring economy prompts him to first focus his attentions there.

So the absolute hard-rock, count-on-it bottom line is: Obama is for EFCA. He's willing to change EFCA. And in terms of when, he hasn't said. Take that to a bailed-out bank and cash it.

But, first, check out this Teamster's news release below, especially the quote we boldfaced from president Jim Hoffa, who endorsed Obama and is different from the missing Jimmy Hoffa, who's still late for his last dental appointment.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Speaking of secret ballots, cast yours here to register for Ticket alerts via Twitter.

Hoffa Commends Sponsors of Employee Free Choice Act

By: PR Newswire:  Teamsters President Blasts False Claims About Secret Ballots

WASHINGTON, March 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa today praised House and Senate sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The bill would give workers the choice of forming a union through majority sign-up or a National Labor Relations Board election. It would make it easier for workers to form a union.

"In these dire economic times, I can't think of a better way to restore stability to middle-class families than to strengthen unions," Hoffa said. "History shows that the economy does well when unions are strong."

Hoffa blasted the hostile, multimillion-dollar campaign to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act.

"This business about the Employee Free Choice Act taking away the secret ballot is nonsense spread by front groups for corporate fat cats who don't want to give up their $16,000 wastebaskets," Hoffa said.

"Since when is the secret ballot a basic tenet of democracy?" Hoffa said. "Town meetings in New England are as democratic as they come, and they don't use the secret ballot. Elections in the Soviet Union were by secret ballot, but those weren't democratic."

The bill would also strengthen penalties for violations against workers who are trying to organize or negotiate a first contract, and ensure all parties negotiate a first contract in good faith.

For 74 years, workers have formed unions either through majority sign-up or a NLRB election. However, employers can veto workers' decision to organize through majority sign-up and force them into a divisive NLRB election process. A recent study shows that a pro-union worker is illegally fired in a quarter of all organizing campaigns for NLRB election.

Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Source: International Brotherhood of Teamsters.   ###

Photo: Teamsters.org

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