House of Labor
Stern Considers Alternatives to EFCA
By Alec MacGillis
As key senators have announced that they are not planning to support the Employee Free Choice Act, labor leaders put on a brave face, saying they have every intention of finding the needed 60 votes and that it is premature to start talking about alternatives to the bill.
But in an interview today, Andy Stern, head of the influential Service Employees International Union, stepped gently away from that unified front, raising the prospect of reforms that would overhaul union elections without giving workers the option of organizing sans secret ballot elections.
The legislation now before Congress, dubbed "card check," would let workers organize if a majority in a workplace sign pro-union cards; as it stands, employers require secret ballot elections. Unions say elections are marred by employer intimidation; employers say going with card-check -- what the unions call "majority sign up" -- would expose workers to union pressure.
Speaking to The Post's editorial board, Stern noted that there are ways to try to level the playing field in union elections without giving workers a way around the secret ballot requirement, such as shortening the window before elections are held -- thus giving employers less time to pressure workers -- and stiffening penalties for employer violations.
"We are on the hunt for a solution," he said. "No matter what you do, you have to change the election process. Whether it's majority sign up or not, workers have to have a choice about having an election. The bill has to address ... fast elections, eliminating employer behavior and what happens if there are employer violations. Regardless, that needs to be done."
He even suggested that the card-check bill had been introduced as it is in the Senate only in order to have the same language as the bill that is in the House, and that this may not have been the right way to go. "We sort of have a bill that talks a lot about majority signup and nothing about the problems of the election system," he said. "That was probably a decision made in the House to have the same bill come up and potentially pass the same bill -- which is not going to be a logical way to follow through now that we know ... what the situation is."
Stern and SEIU secretary treasurer Anna Burger said they have not given up on getting 60 votes for card-check, saying that they still hold out hope that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the only Republican to support the bill in 2007, could yet reverse his declaration against the bill last month. "Oh sure," Burger said about the chances of Specter flipping back. "This is Arlen Specter we're talking about."
But they also acknowledged that, for now, they are having to search for their 60 votes without any help from President Obama, who has expressed support for card-check but not made it a priority.
"The President has said he has a series of things -- that we agree that he needs to get done -- which are major for every man woman and child, like health care, like the budget, like financial regulation," Stern said. "We respect that we have a job to do to line up enough votes without him. I don't think there's any question that he says there will be a vote, that this bill's time has arrived and he will do whatever is in his power to bring this home. We just aren't there yet."
Then Stern signaled one last time that if card-check does prove to be unrealistic, he believes that unions must get behind some other substantive reform, instead of waiting until 2011 in hopes of a bigger Democratic majority after the next election. "We need to get something that's significant done," he said.
Posted at 7:47 PM ET on Apr 20, 2009
House of Labor
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