Skip to comments.Feinstein stuck in middle of union 'card-check' fight
Posted on 06/21/2009 6:25:00 PM PDT by South40
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is getting squeezed by business and organized labor over her neutrality on legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions. Feinstein was a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, commonly known as card check, in 2007. But she is the only Democrat in the California congressional delegation who is not a co-sponsor of this year's bill, which is labor's top legislative priority.
The senator has expressed reservations about forging ahead with such a fundamental change in union-organizing rules during a deep recession.
This is an extraordinarily difficult economy, and there are very strong feelings on both sides of the issue, said Gil Duran, Feinstein's communications director.
Labor insists the economic concerns are misguided. She said she's concerned given the economic situation about making some of the changes that are proposed in this bill. But we've said very clearly to her and her staff that it's our belief it's going to help the economy because it will grow wages, said Steve Smith, director of communications for the California Labor Federation.
People don't have the money in their pockets to buy goods and services right now, and that's hurting business.
Feinstein is part of a small group of senators led by Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa that is trying to come up with a compromise.
I am working to find common ground between the needs of both business and labor in order to reach a bipartisan solution, Feinstein said in a statement this month.
That ground is tough to find. Labor is wary of any changes in the legislation, and business, notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, maintains the differences on the issue are so great that there is little area for compromise.
Under the Employee Free Choice Act, a union bargaining unit would be certified by the National Labor Relations Board any time 50 percent of the workers signed cards.
It also has binding-arbitration provisions and stricter penalties for employers violating the National Labor Relations Act that business find draconian. Under the present system, over which employers have much more control, 30 percent of the employees in a workplace can sign cards requesting a secret-ballot union election. If a majority votes for the union, the NLRB certifies it.
Currently, it is the employer's option to call a secret-ballot election or allow a union to be formed through the majority sign-up process. But a company can refuse to bargain with a union chosen through majority sign-up, even if every worker signed a card. Critics of the system also say businesses can maneuver to string out the election process.
Both sides maintain that the other's preferred approach would lead to harassment and intimidation of workers.
By forcing workers to sign a card in public, instead of vote in private, card check opens the door to intimidation and coercion, says a U.S. Chamber of Commerce talking point.
The idea of, for all practical purposes, taking away secret ballots is just plain un-American, said Glenn Spencer, executive director of the chamber's Workforce Freedom Initiative.
Smith of the California Labor Federation argued that the potential of peer pressure from colleagues pales in comparison to the influence employers can wield.
They're not holding a paycheck over a person's head, Smith said. Employers are and that's a situation that's rife with the potential of harassment.
Both sides are lobbying intensely.
This month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce organized a work force freedom airlift, flooding the Capitol with business leaders from around the country urging members of Congress to reject the legislation and any compromise.
The California Labor Federation has organized a series of protests outside Feinstein's offices in the state, as well as letter-writing and e-mail campaigns.
The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council is airing radio commercials lamenting the number of returning military veterans who have to settle for low-paying, nonunion jobs with no health benefits.
Vets and their co-workers should be able to form a union at the jobs they can find the same way they joined the military, by signing their names, the ad says. Senator Feinstein voted to send our soldiers to Iraq. Now she should vote for the Employee Free Choice Act.
President Barack Obama endorsed card check during the 2008 campaign.
Labor and business don't agree about much on this issue, but they agree that Obama's position might account for Feinstein's reticence, noting that the 2007 bill had no chance with Republican George W. Bush in the White House.
I think it's a lot easier to support something when you know you have a president who's never going to sign it. This is a much different situation, said Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.
The chamber's Spencer agreed.
There's a number of senators who voted for it in 2007 who have cold feet now, Spencer said. She's certainly not alone in that camp.
Obama may have endorsed card check, but there have been few signs that he is doing much to move it through Congress.
Nobody's being called to the White House, one congressional aide said.
One labor analyst said he believes the Democratic president simply has higher priorities.
It's not the type of thing Obama wants to waste political capital on right now because it's probably not going to go anywhere, said Gary Chiason, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
Even though Democrats took over the White House and have made significant gains in Congress, Chiason said he didn't think card check has much of a chance.
I think the Employee Free Choice Act right now is very iffy, Chiason said. I think there's probably a one-out-of-three chance it will pass. It's not completely dead, but it's not very much alive because it would require a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and the Republicans are very much against it.
>>it’s our belief it’s going to help the economy because it will grow wages...
Unions have always been confused about precisely where wages come from.
Hey, unions: here’s a hint. It ain’t trees. You increase wages without increasing productivity, something else will have to give.
Ms Feinstein is a career politician looking forward to the next election.
I am in a “right to work” state and my company pays top wages. We pay unions nothing. They can take their political BS and shove it.
I’ve actually met so-called “conservatives” who think she’s great.
Card check is nothing less than removal of rights granted by the Constution. Any congressman or senator who favors it is not living up to their oath of office.
She is not as bad as her sister “SENATOR” from California. I think it was easy for her to be a sponsor of a bill that she thought had no chance of passage, but, now that the Democrats have such a large majority, she knows that they will be blamed for the adverse consequences of this bill.