McGovern now targets arbitration provision in union bill

George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, made quite a splash last year when he came out against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Now in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Thursday, McGovern doubles down on that opposition.

First, the former South Dakota senator took issue with EFCA's provision that would allow workers to form unions if a majority of them signed petition cards stating their intention to organize, bypassing secret ballot elections, which is often called "card-check." Now in his latest op-ed, McGovern is opposing another provision of the bill: the arbitration measure that would have the federal government appoint a mediator to resolve stalled contract negotiations between unions and management.

"A federally appointed arbitrator cannot be expected to understand the nuances specific to each business dispute, the competitive market position of the business, or the plethora of other factors unique to each case. Yet fundamental decisions on wages and benefit costs, rules for promotions, or even rules for exiting an unprofitable line of business could fall to federal arbitrators under EFCA," McGovern writes.

McGovern's line of argument against the provision runs awfully similar to what the business community has said about the arbitration piece of the bill, which has delighted industry lobbyists. At a breakfast meeting for members of the National Association of Manufacturers, former Michigan Gov. John Engler (R), president and CEO of the trade group, read out excerpts of McGovern's op-ed to the gathering.

The liberal icon's stance against EFCA has been used by opponents of the bill to paint it as bad policy that does not deserve to be passed by Congress. Labor officials say corporations and the business trade associations here in Washington lobbying against the legislation are not so much concerned with good reforms of labor law but rather stopping any measure that could boost unionization rates.

Unions campaigned heavily for the bill during last year's election, backing several candidates who supported EFCA. But McGovern argues Democrats should not pass the bill in order to satisfy their labor supporters.

"My party has well-deserved majorities in both houses of Congress, and I am thankful to have an exceptional president in Barack Obama. But while the Democratic majority in Washington confers the power to reward our loyal supporters, today's problems require solutions that transcend party politics. Even when that means taking unpopular stands," McGovern concludes his op-ed.

- Kevin Bogardus