Card-check, Plan B & 2010

Salena Zito
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Posted: Apr 05, 2009 12:00 AM

Does “card-check” have a Plan B?

Yes, according to a group of businesses spearheaded by self-described pro-labor Democrat Lanny Davis.

Davis and the CEOs of Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods, who consider themselves to be progressives, have come up with an alternative to the derailed card-check legislation. Yet offering an alternative that tries to please everyone is not always met with open arms.

Card-check is dead. Although organized labor and business will passionately disagree, the reality is that when Sen. Arlen Specter, R- Pa., jumped off the labor-friendly bandwagon (taking Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., with him), the bill lost its mojo.

Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods, with Davis as their front man, call their effort the “Committee for A Level Playing Field.” Among many things, their proposal retains secret-ballot union elections, essentially taking the “card-check” component out of card-check.

They also propose eliminating binding arbitration and giving employers the right to apply to the National Labor Relations Board to decertify a union.

Labor’s benefits in this compromise come from tougher penalties on businesses for unfair or punitive labor practices, a quicker way to enforce those, and equal access to all employees during non-working hours for campaigning purposes.

AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Richard Trumka’s reaction to the compromise was a blunt “no way.”

“Their proposal is woefully inadequate to protect workers rights. Maybe if someone shows us something that protects workers, but not this,” Trumka said after a rally for miners in Uniontown, Pa.

He said he was still very confident that labor will get the votes needed to pass card-check this year. “I am working on three senators right now whose votes will make this pass,” he said, declining to name the three.

A longtime friend of Specter, the AFL-CIO official said he was very disappointed that “he flip-flopped on the issues.”

Two weeks ago, Specter went from being at least for cloture on the bill to a deafening no, taking labor, business and his declining political career all by surprise.

Trumka isn’t the only big “no” from the labor movement. “Clearly, this so-called compromise was made by CEOs for CEOs … and (is) not something we would support,” said Josh Goldstein, spokesman for American Rights at Work, a pro-labor group.

"It is unfortunate organized labor has said ‘all or nothing,’ ” replied Gene Barr, vice president of governmental affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce.

“Business is willing to have a discussion about issues that employees, organized labor, and employers believe would improve the process,” he said of a compromise. “But that discussion cannot happen with the hammer of card-check looming and threatening jobs and the economy.”

Despite all of its bluff and bluster, labor can’t be too happy when Diane Feinstein thinks this bill is dead.

And in fairness, it is pretty safe to say that labor along with its nemesis, big and small business, do not seem to think this Costco-Starbucks-Whole Foods plan is a good idea.

Why deal now? In the legislative process, people tend to avoid working off the other guy’s bill, particularly one as polarizing as this one.

Unions overplayed their hand. They figured that, with President Obama, Democrats controlling the House and Senate (and Specter in the bag), they had it all.

And, quite frankly they did – promises were made to them. But promises get broken.

Labor still has Obama’s backing and the House’s, but moderate Senate Democrats in southern states blanch at the prospect of having to vote for this legislation.

The supporters of Plan B took their proposal to the Hill last week, hoping to open a dialogue with moderates to see if labor and business can see a way through this polarizing bill. Too early to tell if anyone will bite.

The key consideration in whether anything passes in this Congress is each side’s calculation about the future.

Political parties, as well as business and labor, understand that the 2010 Senate races give Democrats a good opportunity to pick up additional seats.

“Democrats will be at 59 once (Al) Franken (D-Minn.) is seated,” said political science professor Larry Sabato. “If they add a few more senators in 2010 – well within the bounds of possibility – they can pass a pure card-check bill.”

But keep an eye on Republicans and business, who want to kill card-check totally now and redouble their uphill efforts for 2010. They may – and this is a big “may” – want to try to secure some reasonable compromise while they still have some leverage.