Business and Labor Are Girding for the 'Check Card' War

Health care could soon be yesterday's battle. Business groups are now bracing themselves for a new fight in Congress against the growing power of unions. At issue is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), also known as Card Check, a union-backed proposal that would enable workers to join a union if more than 50% of workers at a facility sign membership cards. A government-mandated arbitrator could enact a contract if the employer and the union don't reach an agreement within 120 days.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Unions are now able to represent workers only by voting in a secret ballot, a process labor groups claim can be easily manipulated by companies. Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reject that criticism and say the unions are the ones who can manipulate the process.

"By forcing workers to sign a card in public -- instead of vote in private -- Card Check opens the door to intimidation and coercion," the Chamber says on its website. The business-backed Center for a Democratic Workplace calls the bill a "job killer" and says that the "cornerstone of American democracy is at stake."

A Regular White House Guest

According to the Bloomberg News, companies including Target (TGT), CVS Caremark (CVS) and arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels Stores are ratcheting up their efforts to thwart union organizing because of concerns that the bill may pass Congress early next year. This makes sense because organized labor is given credit for helping Barack Obama get elected president, spending about $450 million during the race.

Andy Stern, the colorful head of the 1.8 million-member Service Employee International Union (SEIU), was the most-frequent visitor to the White House during Obama's first six months in office. The SEIU, which calls itself the fastest-growing union in the Americas, says 60 million workers would join a union if they could. Unions were also important allies for Obama in the debate over health care reform, giving them additional leverage over the Obama administration when it comes to the EFCA.

Unions aren't as impotent as some critics suggest. In 2008, the ranks of American union members actually grew. Granted, the numbers are nowhere near where they were decades ago, but they showed their first statistically significant increase in 25 years. Given the shaky nature of the economic recovery, odds are strong that those trends continued in 2009,

"As we approach the 2010 elections, the unions are really going to want their pound of flesh," Randy Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told Bloomberg News. "Even if we defeat the card-check bill, it's entirely possible that other changes to the National Labor Relations Act will come up, and some of those will likely make it easier to organize the workplace."
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