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Posts Tagged ‘EFCA’

Specter’s Switch Not Death of EFCA

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

The biggest non-Geithner related story of the day yesterday was the announcement from Sen Arlen Specter (R-PA) that he will oppose cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). With a maximum 59 Democrats in the Senate, Democrats needed at least one Republican vote for cloture to end debate on the bill and Specter, as the only Republican to suport cloture on the bill in the last Congress, and as someone who has enjoyed a good relationship with Labor for much of his Senate career, was the most obvious choice. With Specter announcing he will oppose cloture, the prospect of getting any other Republicans on board is highly unlikely, meaning that EFCA probably is on hold, for now.

However, Specter’s volatile political situation likely means that the bill itself is far from dead. Specter’s new position should be understood as a matter of naked political positioning, designed entirely to stave off a primary challenge from former Congressman and Club for Growth President Pat Toomey, who nearly defeated Specter in a 2004 race in which former President George W. Bush had to be brought in to campaign for Specter just days before the election. Specter has never been liked by the conservative activist base of the GOP and, faced with the prospect of a business community angry over his potential support of a bill to make union organizing easier, was looking at a campaign in which he would have no base of support whatsoever. Now, although he will likely remain unpopular with the Republican base, he can count on support from a business community grateful for his putting EFCA on hold, at least, and who will view him as having a better chance to win a general election than the right-wing Toomey. That said, Specter’s switch likely makes it difficult for him to win in November anyway. Labor groups were major backers of Specter in 2004, and Specter has been more popular with Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania for some time. In a state that is increasingly trending in a Democratic direction, as well as being mor elabor friendly than most, this move makes it very likely that a well positioned, high profile Democratic candidate will unseat Specter in 2010. With that in mind, this move might even make the passage of EFCA more likely in the long run, given the prospect of a marginal Republican being replaced by a mainstream Democrat in a pro-labor state. And I wouldn’t discount the possibility that Specter will flip-flop again between the primary and the general election, in a craven bid to win another term in office, either. So while we’ve probably heard the last of EFCA for at least the next 12-18 months, it’s certainly not dead, either in Democratic politics or in the U.S. Senate.

SEIU Hits Boren Hard on EFCA

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Via Greg Sargent, this is just brutal:

I don’t really have a problem with the, um, direct nature of the content. One of the known effects of workplace unionization is safer workplaces, so, logically, less unionization means less safe workplaces. But this will offend some delicate sensibilities (David Broder will have an epileptic fit if he sees it) and so I do have one question for SEIU about the politics of the ad; why Boren?

Rep. Dan Boren represents the 2nd Congressional District in Oklahoma. He’s the only Democrat in Oklahoma’s entire Congressional district, and the 2nd scores as R +5 on the Cook Political Index. He is, in other words, representing a more conservative than average constituency. But he’s also only one member of the House of Representatives, where Democrats have a very large majority and the minority has little to no official capacity to impact legislation. It’s not as if Boren is going to put a hold on the bill, for example, or that his vote will likely tip the scale in either direction in the 435 member body. With that in mind, it seems that such a hard hitting ad would be better placed against someone who was both in a better position to support the bill, and was more likely to impact the bill’s passage.

And since I believe the SEIU is a partner in Accountability Now, count this as another reason I’m skeptical about that organization’s purpose.

EFCA Drops

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

The Employee Free Choice Act is being introduced in both houses of Congress today, a move I fear is  a little rash. Considering the near lockstep opposition it’s likely to face from the Republican Party, I can’t really understand the efficacy of bringing it up before Al Franken is seated. I’m also a little nervous that the opposition has already won the PR battle by successfully branding the package “card check,” and claiming (falsely of course), that the bill would eliminate the right of workers to have a NLRB sanctioned election with a secret ballot. Tim Fernholtz offers up some thoughts on that:

The bill has three parts: Majority sign-up, which requires employers to recognized a union if a majority of employers sign up to indicate their preference; first contract arbitration, where an independent third party would ensure that the union and management reached their first employment agreement; and increase penalties for management violations of the National Labor Relations Act (firing pro-union workers, for instance).

All three provisions could be watered down, but despite the focus on majority sign-up and its so-called threat to the secret ballot, both management and labor are perhaps more invested first contract arbitration: management doesn’t want to be forced into any contract with a union (44 percent of newly-certified unions fail to do so) and labor wants a return on their organizing investment. Pro-labor legislators could pull a switch now, give up majority sign-up in favor of accelerated elections, and probably win the day with first contract arbitration and stiffer NLRB penalties — after all, the only real talking point conservatives have against the legislation is the false claim that it eliminates the secret ballot. On the other hand, majority sign up is more likely to pass without first-contract arbitration.

I think that’s mostly correct. The opposition has spent their time arguing almost exclusively against the majority sign-up part of the proposal. There have been some isolated criticism of first contract arbitration, but that’s both harder to understand in 30 seconds and somewhat harder to oppose than card check, so it’s largely been ignored. It’s easy to see, then, how Democratic willingness to drop the majority sign up provision could leave the opposition unable to mount a new, coherent, opposition to the remaining provisions. It also wouldn’t really hurt labor’s interests that much. First contract arbitration is arguably the most important part of the entire package. At present, even once a union is certified and the employer is legally obligated to collectively bargain with them, management will simply refuse to negotiate in good faith, and will drag out negotiations indefinitely. The upshot of this is that the workers eventually get tired of paying union dues and getting nothing in return, and as such will vote to decertify the union. The particularly bad thing about this is that there’s basically no recourse for labor. They can complain to the NLRB, who can rule that management isn’t negotiating in good faith and then…tell them to negotiate in good faith. And that’s basically the whole of their enforcement mechanism. But going to arbitration after a certain point would make it impossible for management to employ these stalling tactics.

I am, however, a bit skeptical about the idea that increased penalties could compensate for dropping majority sign up. It certainly works in theory; the problem now is that the penalties for breaking the law are less cumbersome for employers than following the law and having to deal with a union, and so the incentives exist to violate the law, pay the penalty, and move on with your union-free life. If the penalties were increased to the point that breaking the law was a major financial hit to the employer, or at least more taxing than having a union, the incentives for management would be to follow the law, and this would make the NLRB election process more equitable. I’m not sure, however, if the political will would exist to create a penalty structure that rigid, however.

On another level though, I’m oddly confident about the whole thing. The White House political operation has thus far proven to be both incredibly coometent and particularly cautious. With that in mind, I have a hard time believing they’d want to move on this issue if they weren’t confident they’d have the votes to pass it.

The Secret To Passing EFCA

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

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More Republicans in the Senate!

Unions will (and should) work hard on a state-by-state basis to keep Democratic lawmakers on board (and I promise to do my part to get my own wavering Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet on board), but it seems to me there’s a much easier way to enforce unity: Make Harry Reid choose between getting every Democrat on board, or ending his political career.

This is not a far-fetched idea. In fact, the inevitable whining, screaming and moaning from Establishment Democrats aside, it would be relatively simple to pull off, and Reid – a smart politician – would know that labor could pull it off in a state like his.

Nevada is a conservative-leaning state, but is also both relatively cheap for political advertising/campaigns, and has an extremely strong labor movement, with roughly 14 percent of its workforce organized. Reid is running for reelection in 2010 in a state that tends to have extremely close elections. The labor movement, therefore, could make a very simple proposal to the Senate Majority Leader: Reid can either A) Schedule the votes for EFCA, during the crucial cloture vote to stop a filibuster get every Democratic senator to vote for cloture, and then get 51 Democrats to vote for it on final passage or B) Not do A, and therefore end his political career knowing that organized labor will put $2 or $3 million into an independent third-party progressive candidate against him in the general election.

Apparently the logic is something like this; either something that Harry Reid has no control over happens, and every Democrat votes the same way, or, apparently, we’re going to turn Reid’s seat over to a Republican. Because, clearly, adding to the ranks of the Republican Senate caucus will be a terrific way to help EFCA pass.

It’s times like these when I think Al Giordano really had the best characterization of Sirota; he’s a child. He has a childlike view of the way politics works, and he doesn’t really take much time to learn that he’s wrong. I mean, he doesn’t ven seem to be aware that states have to balance their budgets. I’ve made this point before, but the Senate is not the House, and the Senate Majority Leader is not the Speaker of the House. Harry Reid really has no mechanism by which to force any individual member to vote a certain way. Senators are elected for 6 year terms, inoculating them somewhat from the threat of being in a re-election battle, and they’re elected statewide, which creates a different political dynamic than the one in the House. Moreover, since there’s only 100 Senators, as opposed to 435 members of the House, each Senator enjoys a good deal of individual influence over the body that just doesn’t exist in the Senate.

Anyone who’s read my blog knows where I stand on EFCA, and how much I want to see it passed. But it’s going to be the sort of thing you finesse, not the sort of thing you force. To employ the obligatory bad sports metaphor, it’s a screen pass, not 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Nothing is going to get done until Al Franken is seated, and Democrats have 59 seated Senators. Those 59 members, plus Arlen Specter, would be an assumed 60 votes, but it isn’t hard to imagine some Democrats waivering. Mary Landrieu previously supported the bill, but she doesn’t have to run for re-election until 2014, so she very well may flip, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Blanche Lincoln is running for re-election in Arkansas, where Wal-Mart reigns supreme, so it may be politically dicey for her to support the bill. On the other hand, these Democrats could oppose the bill, while still voting for cloture, thus enabling it to pass; but I suspect the effect won’t be lost in the slight of hand. And, at the same time, labor really has been outpositioned on this issue. The right has enshrined the idea that EFCA eliminates the secret ballot, and EFCA’s supporters haven’t yet pushed that back, nor have they defined exactly why EFCA is necessary. That alone may make passing EFCA in this Congress impossible. But there will be other Congresses, and there’s a good possibility that Democrats will increase their Senate caucus in 2010, making it easier to pass the bill then.

But David Sirota will still be an idiot.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA)?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Matt Yglesias has the Good Idea of the Day:

In the 2007-2008 congress Specter, no doubt in part as a token of appreciation for that AFL-CIO support, was the lone Republican to back EFCA. If he votes for it again this congress, it’ll be tough for him to win the primary. But if he votes against it, I think he’ll find it tough to win the general election when his support from Democratic-leaning interest groups vanishes. I doubt Specter will avail himself of this option, but the obvious solution would be to stick to his guns on EFCA and follow up his support for the stimulus by switching parties and, like Jim Jeffords, reposition ideologically somewhat. In other words, stop being a vulnerable moderate Republican and become a plain-vanilla Democrat with a safe seat. It would be pretty easy for Specter, as a Democrat, to beat GOP nominee Toomey in a general election. But beating Toomey in a primary without becoming too right-wing to carry the state will be tough.

This really would make the most sense for Specter, especially if EFCA is coming up this Congress. If EFCA comes up, Specter is in an impossible situatiom. If he votes for it, he’ll liely face a strong opponent in the primary, and probably get beat handily. The Republicans will lose his Senate seat, but the conservatives won’t care. If he votes against it, on the other hand , he’ll lose the support he’s typically enjoyed from labor in Pennsylvania and almost certainly lose in the general election. The solution to this problem is pretty obvious, become one of the leading supporters for EFCA in the Senate, and run for re-election as a Democrat.

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This won’t happen, of course, but it’s quite a bit less crazy than it sounds. Specter is already more popular with Democrats than Republicans, at least in Pennsylvania, and a recent poll showed a plurality of Democrats want Specter to remain in his seat, which is fairly remarkable considering that, you know, he’s a Republican. But ultimately it’s too brazen of a move, and you never really see politicians of that level making moves that radical.

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Blue Dogs Request EFCA Delay

Friday, February 27th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I meant to post about this last week, but put it off and forgot about it in the interim. Anyway, Greg Sargent reports that House Blue Dogs asked the House leadership to delay action on the Employee Free Chocie Act, at least until after the Senate has acted on it:

Blue Dog Democrats in the House have asked House Dem leaders to postpone a vote on the Employee Free Choice Act until after the Senate votes on it, and the Democratic leadership has agreed, a senior House Dem aide tells me.

The discussions are likely to disappoint some in the labor movement, who see Employee Free Choice as their top priority and had hoped the House would act quickly and pass a strong bill before the Senate passes a weaker version. Proponents and foes of the measure alike say the Senate is expected to be the major battleground over the bill because of the tight Dem majority.

Now I think the knee-jerk impulse even for me is to criticize the Blue Dogs here, but this really makes some sense. It was always the Senate that was going to be a problem anyway, so in a way it would just be bad caucus management to ask your members in districts where EFCA is likely to be politically dicey to go out on a limb on the package with no guarantee it will be worth anything. By agreeing to wait for the Senate, House leadership also let labor activists focus on holding marginal Senators and getting the proposal through the Senate to be ratified, so to speak, after the fact by the House.

What’s more, this may actually be beneficial to EFCA’s chances. Sargent’s source goes on to say that the Blue Dogs are worried about having to vote “for 2 different versions of the bill,” suggesting that, to the extent they’re willing to support the proposal, they’re likely to take whatever the Senate gives them. If there aren’t any troubling riders in the Senate bill, then, letting the Senate go first could produce a unified bill without a conference report, and could get the bill through Congress that much faster, something that I think would increase its chances of passing.

EFCA Politics

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

T.A. Frank has an article in the new Washington Monthly that argues that the actual card check provision of EFCA is actually the bill’s least important element, and that the strengthening of existing regulations governing employer behavior in union drives is much more important.

That’s probably a pretty fair argument, at least given that Frank is certainly trying to make a point about politics in good faith, but I think it still misses a pretty big point about th politics of EFCA. As Ezra Klein, at least, has pointed out, the biggest problem EFCA proponents are going to have as debate over the bill heats up is that they have yet to forcefully explain why the policy around union elections needs to be changed. I agree with the bill, obviously, but it is fairly easy to demagogue with the specter of “eliminating the secret ballot,” and there’s really no good, cable-rific response to that. Sure, you could explain that EFCA doesn’t eliminate the right of workers to use a secret ballot, and that it only takes a request from 30% of workers to mandate a secret ballot election, but there’s just no way to make a good sound byte out of that.

Instead, EFCA proponents should articulate the problem they’re seeking to address, before they take up a debate over the solution. They should drill home the staggering statistics on the number of employers who violate the law during union drives, whether it’s firing workers who support the union, threatening to close shops, eliminate positions, or refusing to negotiate with a union that does get certified. But ultimately, people have to agree that there is a problem before they’ll listen to your ideas on how to fix it.

2 Million?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

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How do you do that?

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s biggest retailer, agreed to pay $54.3 million to settle a Minnesota lawsuit over wages after a judge ruled the company broke state laws by requiring employees to work off-the-clock.

The settlement covers workers employed between Sept. 11, 1998, and Nov. 14, 2008, at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations, the retailer said today in a statement. The agreement prevents the case from being presented to a jury, which would have been asked to order Wal-Mart to pay as much as $2 billion.

The company required hourly employees to work off-the-clock during training and denied full rest or meal breaks in violation of state wage-and-hour laws, Hastings, Minnesota, District Judge Robert King Jr. ruled July 1, following a non-jury trial. King said Wal-Mart broke labor laws more than 2 million times and ordered the retailer to give employees $6.5 million in back pay.

Of course, we all know that Wal-Mart is the scum of the Earth, but this really ought to be rallying cry of the pro-EFCA movement. The right has gotten some traction in framing this as a move to “take away the secret ballot,” in no small part because the corporate media are, well, corporate owned, and quite a bit willing to do a little union busting of their own. Progressives have been pretty bad at battling that back, but really, this should change all of that.

At the heart of the matter, nothing really changes about balloting except who has governing authority. At present, unions can already be organized by card check, but the employer has the right to demand an NLRB election. Of course that’s in their favor, because they get to draw the process out, force workers into anti-union meetings, and yes, flagrantly break the law. That ought to be obvious on the face of things. And even under EFCA, it only takes 30% of workers requesting a secret-ballot election to force one. But what progressives really ought to focus on, I think, is how shameful the NLRB and the election process is.

Imagine for a second that the penalty for stealing $1 million was a $100,000 fine. And you got to keep the rest of the money. And there was no prison time. Think we’d see a lot more people robbing banks? That’s basically what you have under our current labor laws; penalties for violations are so laughably light that it’s actually more cost effective for corporations like Wal-Mart to flagrantly violate it and pay the fine than it is to follow the letter of the law. Running through the math here, $54 million for 2 million violations comes out to $27 per violation. If you’re paying your workers $7 an hour, that’s just under 4 hours worth of work, for one employee. With those kinds of margins, why the hell wouldn’t Wal-Mart, or anyone else, break the law?

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