Senators discuss removing card-check provision

A group of senators are discussing dropping a key provision in the card-check bill in order to win centrist support in the upper chamber.

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But congressional aides and union officials said no agreement has been hammered out yet on an alternative to a bill that is organized labor’s top legislative priority. They stressed that that every piece of the legislation is up for discussion in order to earn 60 votes to beat back a certain Senate filibuster.

A report in The New York Times on Thursday said senators led by Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) had decided to remove the card-check, or majority sign-up, portion of the bill, formally known as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

That provision would allow workers to bypass secret-ballot elections in forming a union if a majority of workers signed petition cards stating their intention to organize.

According to the report in the Times, lawmakers are considering replacing that provision with a measure that would require shorter unionization campaigns and quicker elections.

Harkin spokeswoman Kate Cyrul said no agreement has been reached, but that everything is under discussion.

“Negotiations continue and in our view, we don't have agreement on anything until we have agreement on everything,” Cyrul said.

Union officials made similar comments.

“There's been no agreement and everything is still being discussed and on the table,” said Alison Omens, spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO. “As we've always said, majority sign-up is the best way for workers to have the right to choose a voice at their workplace.”

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, released a statement that said he expected a vote on the card-check provision when the bill comes to the floor in both the House and the Senate.

“As we have said from day one, majority sign-up is the best way for workers to have the right to choose a voice at their workplace,” Stern said in a statement. “The Employee Free Choice Act is going through the usual legislative process, and we expect a vote on a majority sign-up provision in the final bill or by amendment in both houses of Congress.”

Unions have campaigned for the bill because they argue it would expand collective-bargaining rights to workers who want them. They could then negotiate for better wages and benefits once they were unionized.

Even if the card-check provision is dropped from the final bill, business associations would still lobby heavily against the legislation, they said. They oppose another part of the bill that would allow an arbitrator appointed by the government to resolve differences. Business sees this as allowing too much government interference in business decisions.

“We’ve been clear all along that card-check is the political poison in this bill, but forced government arbitration is the economic poison,” said Steven Law, chief legal officer and general counsel to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “This rumored alternative is just a discounted version of the original bill and we intend to work hard to block it.”

A number of centrist Democrats either oppose the bill or are skittish of offering support in the face of a heavy lobbying campaign by business against the legislation.