Now that the House Democrats have passed their 100-hours agenda (much of which will die in the Senate), where should they go next?
I think that the obvious next choice is the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow employees to form unions based upon signing cards rather than go through the laborious process of elections. Those elections are so difficult and drawn out that they allow employers to dismiss or intimidate workers interested in unionizing. While unionization is hardly the complete cure toward rebuilding the security of the American working class, it is a necessary step.
Critics of “card-check” raise the specter of union toughs intimidating workers into signing. There are reasons to question the significance of this problem. Employers are equisitely sensitive to such prospects, and have a panoply of remedies to combat it legally. If there is evidence of this intimidation, it can stop the whole process in its tracks. And consider me skeptical that multinationals like Wal-mart don’t have the resources to fight off union drives even with card check.
Nonetheless, I think that Democrats can propose one amendment that will alleviate such concerns.
The EFCA should mandate a standard secret-ballot election four years after card check certification. Although employers can currently call for decertification elections one year afterwards, they must provide evidence for doing so. This would be automatic.
Such a provision would mean that employees could vote secretly to end their unionization (thus avoiding the fears of anti-labor advocated), while at the same time, any attempt by the employers to intimidate employees during the secret ballot election would be stopped because, well, there will already be a union.
Four years is long enough for the union to get up and running (refusals by employers to run out the clock would be quite difficult over that length of time without obviously being a labor law violation), but it would still force them to be responsive.
I like card check as a new opening gambit: it holds out real promise for workers, but does not involve the creation of any federal bureaucracies (indeed, it de-bureaucratizes the process) and most importantly, does not involve any new spending. That’s the general tack to take, which is also why, unlike my blogging colleagues, I strongly favor increasing CAFE standards. Sometimes a fiscal approach may be sounder policy, but given the current correlation of forces, a regulatory approach is an excellent second-best option.
Bush will of course veto card-check. As a political matter, I’ll take that.