Is Card Check Still Dead? Maybe Not
On the very day that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter became a Democrat, he told reporters that the change in party wouldn't change his opposition to legislation making it easier for unions to organize. But, in fact, his switch may be exactly what the unions and their supporters need to break the deadlock over the issue.
That doesn't mean labor will get what it wants -- a bill allowing them to organize without a secret ballot election if a majority of workers sign cards supporting a union. That proposal is, for all practical purposes, dead in this Congress. But a more modest version of what labor seeks is actually more likely because of Specter's switch.
Simply put, Specter can't win reelection in Pennsylvania without the money and active support of organized labor. That's why Specter is usually careful to say he won't support the card check bill "as written," clearly leaving open the door to a compromise. President Obama is also open to a compromise, and though the unions have so far resisted that, they're beginning to realize it may be their only hope.
Employers are winning the public relations campaign against the bill by arguing that a secret ballot election is the foundation of democracy. Unions don't object to an election per se, but they do object to the current system, which can delay an election for months. They argue -- and insist the record proves -- that the delay gives the company time to unfairly pressure employees and even to fire union organizers. The companies, in turn, say relying solely on cards allows the union to exert unfair peer pressure on workers.
Employers also object to a provision in the existing proposal that would require binding arbitration if a newly recognized union and a company don't reach an agreement in a set period of time. Labor complains that companies often drag their feet and never reach a first contract with new unions.
A compromise would likely include secret elections, but would significantly speed up the process and include stronger safeguards to prevent coercion by either side. It would also lengthen the time for contract negotiations before binding arbitration is required.
The compromise is no sure thing, especially with both labor and business still refusing to settle. Getting 60 votes in the Senate will be tough no matter what the plan is. But Specter's defection will help, not hinder the process.