According to a report today in Politico, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) “is trying to resurrect the Employee Free Choice Act by reaching out to a group of Democrats looking for cover on the politically treacherous bill”:
Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Jim Webb of Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Dianne Feinstein of California are participating in preliminary talks to modify the “card check” bill, according to lobbyists and aides. Aides say Harkin is holding daily, closed-door conversations with interested lawmakers, business groups and labor unions.
This is good news. Lost in much of the the EFCA debate, which mostly centered on the kerfuffle over “the secret ballot,” is the simple fact that labor reform is still necessary and has a good chance of getting through Congress. Various methods for reforming the union election process have been floated, including a proposal from Feinstein that would allow workers to mail in their ballots directly to the National Labor Relations Board. Other key provisions — including arbitration to ensure that workers who vote to form a union actually get a contract — are still being negotiated.
Plus, it’s not like the problems that EFCA is meant to address have gone anywhere. In fact, a new study out today from the Economic Policy Institute found that over the last 20 years “employer opposition [to unionization] has intensified…and the nature of campaigns has changed so that the focus is on more coercive and punitive tactics designed to intensely monitor and punish union activity”:
Although the use of management consultants, captive audience meetings, and supervisor one-on-ones has remained fairly constant, there has been an increase in more coercive and retaliatory tactics (“sticks”) such as plant closing threats and actual plant closings, discharges, harassment and other discipline, surveillance, and alteration of benefits and conditions.
The study found that “employers threatened to close plants in 57 percent of the campaigns and threatened to cut wages and benefits in 47 percent,” while firing pro-union workers 34 percent of the time.
Of course, the business lobby has already committed itself to opposing any compromise on EFCA. “Let us be clear and frank on this matter; there can be no acceptable ‘compromise’ on any issue of labor law reform due to the very real threat posed by EFCA,” wrote the Coalition for a Democratic Workforce, a front group composed of the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, among others.
Pressure from the business community has also led some senators, such as Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), to try to avoid the issue. Harkin, however, is threatening to bring the original bill to the floor. “We’re trying to get the necessary compromises made to get this through,” Harkin said, but if a compromise cannot be found, “it is my intent that we will put the original bill on the floor and make people vote on it.”