The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


44 The Obama Presidency

AFL-CIO Says Card-Check Is Imminent

By Alec MacGillis
Buttressed by a new statement of support from President Obama, union leaders said today they are confident that the Employee Free Choice Act would be introduced in Congress in the next few weeks and that they had the 60 votes needed to break a Senate filibuster -- that is, if Al Franken is seated.

"We're confident right now that we have majority support," said Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO's legislative director, speaking in a conference call from the AFL-CIO's executive council meeting in Miami. The bill would be introduced in "days if not weeks," he said. "We've been engaged in a marathon on this, and now we're ready to sprint."

The legislation, by far the top priority for organized labor, would make it easier to form unions because it gives workers the option of organizing by having workers sign cards of support, instead of going through secret-ballot elections that labor leaders say can be marked by intimidation by employers. The legislation would require employers to submit to binding arbitration if they were unable to agree to a contract within 90 days after a union's formation.

Business groups and Republicans are strongly opposed to the bill, often dubbed "card-check." They say it would expose workers to intimidation by union organizers and would hurt employers at a time when they are already reeling from the recession. The Chamber of Commerce and other groups are spending heavily to run ads against the bill and to drum up opposition in states that are home to senators who may be on the fence. Unions are countering with their own media and grass-roots campaign, although they have been somewhat distracted by nasty internal rifts within two of the biggest unions, the Service Employees International Union and UNITE-HERE, which represents garment and hotel workers.

Both sides have been closely watching Obama for signs of how strongly he'll push for the bill. Obama co-sponsored the legislation as a senator, but he has given signals since the November election that it would not necessarily be one of his earliest priorities as president. Days before the inauguration, he told The Washington Post editorial board that he was open to revising the legislation if there were other ways of expanding worker rights while drawing broader political and business support.

In a video-taped statement delivered to the AFL-CIO council meeting this week, Obama made clear that the legislation remained on his to-do list. "As we confront this crisis and work to provide health care to every American, rebuild our nation's infrastructure, move toward a clean energy economy, and pass the Employee Free Choice Act, I want you to know that you will always have a seat at the table," he said.

As important as Obama's support is the need for the support of 60 senators to break a filibuster on the bill, which would mean keeping all of the 52 senators who voted for the bill before, plus all of the new Democrats in the chamber. Samuel said repeatedly that unions are confident that they will have exactly 60 senators on board if Al Franken is finally seated and that they are still hoping to swing a few more senators on board for breathing room. He was asked specifically about three centrist Democrats -- Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana -- and he said resolutely that he was sure they would vote for it, whatever their public comments now.

This confidence, Samuel said, was based on "their record . . . their entire career."

"It's true that in some states it's more difficult than in others to be publicly out there right now," he said, given the lobbying in their states against the bill. "Some members prefer to stay behind the curtain as it were until it's closer. . . . I'm not surprised at some of the signals being sent. We're confident. They're having discussions with workers back home."

Some Democrats and labor supporters do not share that confidence, fearing that centrist Democrats in states that are not strongly pro-labor were able to vote for the bill last time only because they knew it would not pass under President Bush. Samuel rejected that logic, saying there was actually a stronger argument now for supporting the bill, given the new attention to the plight of workers and the imbalance in the economy.

"It's a different economy, a different environment," Samuel said. "And we expect to have a White House that's fully engaged."

Posted at 5:47 PM ET on Mar 4, 2009  | Category:  44 The Obama Presidency
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I am an Obama supporter and I am thrilled that he is pulling our troops out of Iraq and is trying to address the challenges of today (like healthcare reform, the financial crisis and the envrionment). Yet, I think that the Employee Free Choice Act would do an enormous harm to our country's economy. It will lead to "Italization", "Germanization" - call it however you want it - of our economy. It will make many of the business less flexible. It will reduce the mobility of workers (one of the selling points of the US to many companies that open factories and plants here). It will lead to the relative prosperity of the few (union members) at the expense of those who are not the union members. The companies will be forced to pay more and provide more generous benefits to those belong to the union and will be reluctant to hire more people. Some mention that the US used to have a much higher percentage of employees belonging to the unions in the 70s and 80s and hesitate to mention that it was an era of high unemployment high inflation, low growth, and general stagnation of our economy.

Posted by: LeoNYC | March 5, 2009 11:22 PM

Hey all you union agitators: here's some history to consider. When faced with a unionized store in Canada, Wal-Mart closed it rather than put up with the union bs. As a business owner and employer, I won't hesitate to shut down and relocate some distance away with new employees to dispense with this card -check bs. Don't think other employers won't consider the same option either.

Posted by: reader011 | March 5, 2009 11:07 PM

Hey all you union agitators: here's some history to consider. When faced with a unionized store in Canada, Wal-Mart closed it rather than put up with the union bs. As a business owner and employer, I won't hesitate to shut down and relocate some distance away with new employees to dispense with this card -check bs. Don't think other employers won't consider the same option either.

Posted by: reader011 | March 5, 2009 11:06 PM

The ONLY "Card Checks" O'Bomba and the other "Enforcers" of the Federal Government should be worrying about;

are the ones that are supposed to be carried by Workers at ALL Job-Sites!

Namely: Driver's Licenses, and Social Security Cards(Or, other LEGAL ID!).

No "Cards"?

"Where is your EMPLOYER? Por favor!"

"He just lost $1,000 because he gave this Work to YOU!" ;~)

Hasta Manana! ;~)

Posted by: SAINT---The | March 5, 2009 6:57 PM

Camera are barred because Biden doesn't want pictures taken of him bending over and showing the 'labor criminals' his news pink and gold 'UNIONIZED' tattoo on his butt.

Posted by: JWx2 | March 5, 2009 4:47 PM

A simple test puts this whole argument into perspective. First, who is pushing the bill? The AFL-CIO so it's a benefit to THEM. If it wasn't, they wouldn't be pushing it. If you don't understand that the larger their membership base is, the more money THEY make, then you shouldn't even be in the discussion.

Second, if their argument is workers WANT unions and can't form them, why be afraid of a secret ballot? A secret ballot keeps the honest people honest right? if the workers truly want a union, a secret ballot should bear that out. The only reason to suspend secret ballots is to allow union organizers more leverage (i.e intimidation) for forming the union. Back to my first point. Dues = union income. Duh.

In fact, in 1969, the Supreme Court of the United States famously wrote the following in regards to whether authorization cards are a reliable indicator of an employee's true intentions:

"The unreliability of the cards is not dependent upon the possible use of misrepresentation and threats…It is inherent, as we have noted, in the absence of secrecy and in the natural inclination of most people to avoid stands which appear to be nonconformist and antagonistic to friends and fellow employees."

Posted by: NavyWings | March 5, 2009 1:02 PM

Card Check union recognition is what this country needs right now. For too long, corporations have dominated the workplace and our government. It's time to even the playing field.

Corporations have made card check recognition necessary because they have wantonly violated the NLRA at will - hampering legitimate, democratic efforts of employees to form bargaining units.

Unions are at the heart of democracy. They are at the heart of winning basic rights, securing a living wage and affordable healthcare, workplace safety, and ensuring that there is some semblance of a Middle Class in American -- families who can actually afford to send children to college or retire with dignity.

Every American and Every Senator should support the Employee Free Choice Act.

Posted by: teamconvoy | March 5, 2009 12:20 PM

Steve Gilbert is right, this piece is positively Orwellian in its spin about the measure.

Posted by: clarice2 | March 5, 2009 12:17 PM

Hey! We need union domination on this! Workers of the world must unite! We need to intimidate management. How else can we get not only our wages, but fantastic pension benefits as well!!!The unions have set the state of California in bankruptcy (that will show them how much power we have!)Screw the people! After all, unions have contributed with much dollars to get our illustrious leader and his cohorts in the White House. Now they have to help us! THEY OWE US! YES! Inflation will probably double in the next few years with union domination of the workforce, but hell! we need that! We can afford that! So what, if the auto workers have pushed the auto makers to the point of bankruptcy! Look what we can do to this country! Yes, do away with the secret vote! UNION DOMINATION FOR THE COUNTRY!!!We will be able to bankrupt this country as well!!!

Posted by: SeniorVet | March 5, 2009 10:34 AM

I'm normally against the fillibuster, but in this case I fully support it. The proposal is undemocratic and another abuse of union power. They are a lot of the cause of our present economic problems.

One look a the picket line in Sacramento last month by the SEIU due to two days furlough says it all. When millions of Americans have nothing, they still have health care, pensions a job yet can't fathom the idea of sacrifice in a two day furlough. A pox on your houses.

Posted by: NotBubba | March 5, 2009 7:01 AM

I'm a blue collar guy and I don't need a bunch of faciast thugs to come in and dictate to me how I'll relate to my employer. I've been in unions before and they lie, threaten and manipulate people and I will not tolerate it. I for one will be the one that fights alone if need be, I'll slash their tires and threaten them. Let them bring in the bully boys, I have a bat for their heads. I HATE COMMUNIST FILTHY UNION TRASH. I am a MAN, not a cowardly LIBERAL and I don't need a leader. READ THIS leftist, you want a revolution? Step on my toes and I'll eat your lunch.

Posted by: courtnek56 | March 5, 2009 6:21 AM

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