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The Employee Free Choice Act drops its dead weight, moves towards passage

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Back in March I submitted a post, on Nebraska’s most active liberal blog, condemning the card check proposal that was at the core of the legislation dubbed The Employee Free Choice Act. I pointed out that a number of the other ideas in the bill seemed sound, like shortening the time between when the threshold was met for a vote on unionization and the actual time of the vote, but that I thought that the secret ballot should be mandatory in all circumstances. I also predicted that polling would continue to show a lack of support for getting rid of the secret ballot (which this would have effectively done, if not technically) and that I didn’t think the bill would pass with this provision weighing it down.

It turns out that I was right. The New York Times is reporting that key Democrats have pulled the card check provision from the bill and are revising it for another run at passage. The AP is even saying that their sources tell them that unions okayed the move, after seeing the bill flounder for the last few weeks. Both sides are denying that this apparent deal is set in stone and are verbally sticking to their guns. With some modification I think the bill probably will pass, possibly with more than just the 60 Democrats in the Senate even.

The debate over this bill developed into a sort of ink blot test early on for me, showing how certain people will let their ideology overtake their belief in democratic principles. One of the foundations that is supposed to lie at the base of all law is the principle of equal justice. I think its clear that the card check provision blows by this principle, calling for a system where unions have a huge advantage in the unionization process. I doubt that this is why the majority of people are against the card check provision, but the basic idea of fairness, that underlies the equal justice ideal, probably does.

Union supporters, which I am generally (I paid part of my way through college while working in a manufacturing plant covered by the local steel workers union), point out that employers currently have a leg up in the unionization process. They get a month to attempt to dissuade employees to unionize, can set meetings, and (in some rare cases) resort to tactics like firing employees pushing for the union vote. As I said in my post back in March, this is to be expected.

When someone wants something badly, they often resort to coersive tactics if they think they can get away with it. Reforming this flawed system should then work to find better ways of monitering the unionization process andincrease the cost for those who are caught  violating the law. In so doin,g you work to convince people that they will not be likely to get away with it and the cost of possibly getting caught is too high to risk it in the first place. Instead the card check idea doesn’t really get to the root of this problem, while creating a whole new avenue for abuse – this time in the hands of union organizers.

My claim that this would certainly be abused is not a condemnation of union organizers, it is an observation of human nature. Most will follow the law, as most employers do during the period where employees consider whether to unionize or not, but abuse is inevitable.

Moving on to remaining provisions, unions want to shorten the time between the beginning of the process and the vote. I’m not sure that it should be cut to as low as five to ten days, as is being discussed, but this does not seem like an unreasonable reform. I am concerned about is this proposal to not allow employers to have a meeting where the employer gets to state their case. As long as the union organizers get their time to put their case to the employees as well, this is only fair. Only allowing union organizers to make their case is perhaps more blatantly unjust that tossing out the secret ballot.

I’m also on the fence with this forced arbitration provision. It states that a federal arbitrator could impose a contract on employers and unions should they not be able to negotiate one within 120 days of unionization. I do think congress does have the power to determine the legal relationship between two entities this way, which is why this is not a poison pill for me. However, I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the government could force anyone into a contract they do not willingly assent to. Its their job to enforce contracts, not force people into them. If employers don’t offer terms amenable to the union representatives, they can show them what running a business without workers would be like by striking. If employers don’t like terms offered to them, they can move the business elsewhere.

Unless something big changes, however, I now expect this to pass. It is unclear as to how hard corporate interests will now fight against the bill now that the card check provision is out, but it would appear that the votes are now there for it to succeed in the Senate. Now we will wait and see if the President, and Democratic leadership, will put the battle over healthcare on pause for an issue that is neither high on the public’s priorities list, nor particularly well understood. The upside for them among part of their base is high, and the downside existing mostly in the opposition’s base, with most people just plain confused about the issue.