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EFCA Still Potent for Organized Labor

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, July 20, 2009

There's word out of Congress that the most contentious provision of the Employee Free Choice Act that would have made organizing workers far, far easier will be whittled from the bill. The New York Times  reported on Friday that moderate Senate Democrats dropped the so-called "card-check provision" from EFCA as a means of securing a filibuster-proof 60 votes for the rest of the package.

Card check would have required employers to recognize unions as soon as a majority of employees signed cards saying they wanted to organize, effectively eliminating the secret ballot. The unions love it. Management hates it, and both sides lobbied ferociously for their cause.

Before you make party balloons out of surgical gloves and form conga lines in the C-suite, remember that the card check provision is only one—albeit key—component of EFCA, the most labor-friendly legislation under consideration in Washington in years. Instead of card check, unnamed Senate and labor officials told the Times that the revised bill would mandate shorter unionization campaigns and faster elections, which will give management less time to react to a union threat.

"A lot of people are confused. When they say EFCA is dead, it's the card check provision that may be in question," says James G. Trivisonno, president of Detroit-based IRI Consultants. "The House may feel differently, so I wouldn't count it out completely. But, clearly there is going to be some kind of reform and it is going to impact employers. The time is now to start looking at employee relations policies and practices."

The federal government's view of the labor-management paradigm has shifted remarkably in the few months since President George W. Bush left the White House. One of the most business-friendly presidents in recent history was replaced by the very union-friendly President Barack Obama, who is an unabashed supporter of card check. Obama has strong ties to Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union. They meet regularly at the White House.

Democratic appointees also will control three of the five seats on the National Labor Relations Board, which holds great leeway in setting the rules and adjusting the goal posts. And before she was appointed NLRB general counsel this spring, Julia Clark held the same post for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

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