AFL-CIO suggests a hedge on card-check

The incoming president of the AFL-CIO signaled Wednesday his union could accept a card-check bill that preserves an employer’s right to demand a secret-ballot election.

Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka hedged on whether a card-check bill must include the provision that gives it its name.

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As written, legislation in the House and Senate would allow workers to organize by signing cards and would eliminate an employer’s ability to require a secret-ballot election. Unions and business groups both argue this would make it much easier for workers to organize.

Asked Wednesday if including the provision was a key for the union, Trumka said “it may or may not be.”

He listed three issues that must be included in the bill, and said the most important thing for labor union members is that they win labor law reforms from a Democratic Congress and White House.

“They wanted labor law reform, and they’ll get a chance to get that,” Trumka said after he was pressed on how he’d explain the change to union members who supported President Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign because they believed he’d vote for a bill with card check.

Trumka was speaking at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

He also said he wasn’t as pessimistic as those who think it will not be possible for a card-check bill that does away with the employer’s secret-ballot right to clear the Senate.

A group of senators have been trying to negotiate a compromise version of the legislation, and reports have suggested that compromise would not include the card-check provision.

With the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Democrats do not have enough votes in the Senate to break a GOP filibuster, and no Republicans have offered support for the card-check bill as introduced. In addition, several centrist Democrats have distanced themselves from the bill in the wake of an intense lobbying campaign by business groups.

Trumka, a former president of the United Mineworkers, is expected to be elected AFL-CIO president at the group’s convention in Pittsburgh later this month.

He said three elements must be included in the card-check bill: workers who organize into unions should be free of harassment by their employers, penalties for labor law violations should be stiffened and contract negotiations should be expedited.

“I feel certain those three goals will be met and I feel certain this president will help pass that bill,” Trumka said.

He and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney also blasted former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern Wednesday for opposing the card-check bill.

McGovern, the former South Dakota senator who was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, has taken a very public stance against card-check. A liberal icon who opposed the Vietnam War, McGovern was crushed by President Richard Nixon in a landslide.

“Sen. McGovern is wrong. He is saying things that are wrong. He is listening more to the Chamber of Commerce than the labor movement,” Sweeney said.

McGovern has appeared in television ads sponsored by anti-card-check groups and has written op-eds opposing the bill.

“He ran as an anti-war candidate. There have been three our four wars since he left the playing field that he has had nothing to say about. Then he comes back on the playing field to make war against workers. We found that very ironic,” Trumka said.