Despite the attention placed on Congress and its apparent inability to work together or with the White House, more than a few people in the business world lose more sleep because of the work of agencies in our nation’s capital.
Two expected examples on the union organizing front (where Congress has at least stepped up to stop the so-called "card check" legislation):
The National Labor Relations Board is looking to shorten union elections from approximately 40 days to as few as 10. The result would be employers having less time to make their case to employees against unionizing (in other words, counteract the pro-union efforts that have been going on prior to the scheduling of the election).
The Labor Department is expected to require enhanced reporting of consulting arrangements by companies that use outside guidance to oppose union organizing efforts.
Two unrelated observations that come together in this case:
Who is in charge of naming legislation that produces such memorable acronyms? The latest is the DISCLOSE Act, short for Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections
Any time you can get 300 organizations to agree on something, it must be at an extreme — in this case the bad end of the spectrum
DISCLOSE is the 2010 version of card check, attempting to penalize business voices at the expense of unions. Card check dealt with union elections; DISCLOSE seeks to circumvent a Supreme Court decision and attack First Amendment rights by limiting the business voice in political elections.
The 300-plus organizations (chambers, economic development groups, associations and more) represent businesses of all types and size across the country. They combined to send a letter to all members of the U.S. House. A couple of excerpts below, and here is the full letter:
The legislation’s sponsors admit that the bill’s purpose is to deter corporations from participating in the political process. Senator Schumer has said the bill will make corporations “think twice” before attempting to influence election outcomes, and that this “deterrent effect should not be underestimated.”
Its provisions include a blanket prohibition on election-related speech by certain government contractors. Thousands of corporations regularly participate in contracts with the federal government; under Schumer – Van Hollen, many of them are categorically barred from making their political views known. The bill imposes no comparable restrictions on labor unions that receive federal grants, negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the government, or have international affiliates, even though unions and their political action committees are the single largest contributor to political campaigns and claim to have spent nearly $450 million in the 2008 presidential race.
He doesn’t think so. BusinessWeek recently sat down with President Obama and got his take on his relationship with the business community. Very interesting discussion and I recommend you read it in its entirety:
BusinessWeek: A lot of business leaders consider you to be antibusiness. I was struck when I attended the Aspen Institute Ideas Festival. [Council of Economic Advisers member] Austan Goolsbee was speaking, and he hit a fairly hostile audience. These are wealthy, fairly progressive older people who had tended to support you, but they seemed very upset about corporate taxes, individual taxes, card check, all sorts of things you’re doing that they perceived as not helpful to them. What can you say to those people?
Pres. Obama: Let’s look at the record. I’ve been in office six months. So far my only tax policy has been to cut taxes for 95% of working people. I haven’t signed a bill that’s raised taxes yet. To the extent that we have put in place policies, they’ve all been directed at helping businesses. A number of those who think we’re antibusiness seem to forget that it was just three or four months ago when, at great political expense, we yanked them out of the fire. And they still—at least if they’re in the financial sector—are enjoying a whole bunch of government guarantees that are propping up their business models. So it’s hard for me not to be a little skeptical when I hear that somehow we’ve been antibusiness.
BusinessWeek: But you’re aware of that perception?
Pres. Obama: Well, here’s what I think. To the extent that I can identify any aspects of this that make any sense, one is that, at the height of the AIG (AIG) debacle, I used pretty tough language in terms of folks paying themselves bonuses at a time when they were given big taxpayer bailouts. I continue to believe—and this is not antibusiness, this is common sense—that if you’ve presided over an enormous meltdown that has resulted in about $10 trillion worth of wealth being lost, that you might want to be a little self-reflective and perhaps change your business goal. And when I see Wall Street not doing that, it tells me not only that they have forgotten the recent past, but that they are putting the country’s economy at further risk. One of the things I’m worried about is, having had to step in in extraordinary ways, we now have even more potential for moral hazard, where financial institutions think to themselves, "We can continue to take extraordinary risks and pay ourselves extraordinarily high salaries or bonuses because we know that we are too big to fail." I think that’s dangerous for the economy and for business. And so that would be one example.
What are your thoughts? Are his critics in the business community too hard on him — or not hard enough?
Uninvited guests called on the Chamber this morning – both outside and inside the building. Why? Desperation to preserve union viability through passage of the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
A handful of picketers came together on a downtown street corner for a short time, while the Chamber was conducting its EFCA seminar (for members and customers) in its conference center. The protesters were Central Indiana representatives of Jobs With Justice, a national effort focused on workers’ rights. The piece of paper they were distributing to passers-by claimed that EFCA will not eliminate so-called “secret ballot” elections and that it would “increase penalties for companies who instill fear in employees by harassing and intimidating them against the union.” Those two points are so laughable that they are not even worth addressing, but the picketers did have the right to express their opinions.
Inside the Chamber office, two members of the local AFL-CIO maneuvered their way into a portion of the actual seminar before they were asked to leave. They had not registered or paid the fee to attend. They were not eligible to participate – that has been clearly communicated this time and through many years of offering union-related programs. They did not have the right to “invade” an educational conference.
The seminar informed representatives of Indiana companies about EFCA and steps they should take if they did not:
want to be victim to a “card check” organizing campaign without any prior notice;
want their workers to be subject to coercion through card check instead of maintaining the fundamental right to a secret ballot; and
want to have independent government arbitrators decide how their business operates (if a union is put in place and no agreement is reached within a short time frame on an initial contract).
EFCA is bad for employers and employees. The only beneficiaries are union leaders.
Why has private sector employee involvement in unions declined to less than 8% nationwide? Because employers have provided open and effective communication, listened to their employees and created an atmosphere of trust. When those factors are not in place, employees may pursue union representation. The rules are in place for that to happen. Trying to artificially boost union numbers by taking away worker rights and the ability of employers and employees to negotiate contracts would be a disastrous move in the wrong direction.
The Indiana Chamber will host another EFCA seminar with Barnes & Thornburg in late August, featuring the most recent information. E-mail email@example.com to be added to the list to receive future information about this program.
Companies and employees are rightfully worried about the ramifications of the Employee Free Choice Act — or card check as it is more commonly known. The removal of the secret ballot from the union organizing process benefits one group — union leaders.
If the Democratic majorities in Congress make this a reality, states want a weapon in their arsenal. Utah is the first to place a measure on the ballot that aims to pre-empt the possible changes. The Legislature passed a resolution that would have voters decide whether they want to amend the state constitution to require that the secret ballot elections be maintained.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who offered his support for the measure as the Legislature debated the issue, says, "This constitutional amendment would ensure that individuals will be constitutionally guaranteed the right to a secret-ballot for these types of important elections." The resolution will go before the voters in 2010.
Advocates for the measure argue it was needed because of the possibility that Congress will enact the card-check bill.
GOP state Rep. Carl Wimmer, the bill sponsor, adds, "Is the secret ballot under attack? Right now there is a movement going through the federal government that will — regardless of what you’ve heard — do away, effectively, with secret ballots when it comes to employee representation and forming of labor unions."
Several other states are pushing similar efforts. The group Save Our Secret Ballot is working on initiatives to amend state constitutions so that union elections are required to be conducted by secret ballot.
Geoff O’Hara of the United States Chamber offered a great post last week about the perceptions, realities, and tactics involved in the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Here it is in its entirety:
Just after 8:00 a.m. on a soggy morning in Providence, I was approaching the local Chamber of Commerce to participate in a briefing to small businesses on the Employee Free Choice Act when I saw it…a rat. And not just any rat. This was a HUGE rat. Bigger than a grizzly bear! Right on the sidewalk in front of the building!
Fortunately for the musophobic crowd (if they’re even still reading this), this was not (a) live rat. It was a 15 foot high inflatable rat – serving as the anchor prop for a group of about 25 people protesting the seminar at which I was about to speak. According to one protestor – the rat symbolized anyone that was anti-union. And their ongoing chants — "What’s disgusting?…Union busting!" — echoed that sentiment.
I was certainly surprised to see that they even make rats that big (what other uses would it have?), but what surprised me even more was the disconnect between the protestors’ message, and the subject of this morning’s seminar. The Employee Free Choice Act isn’t anti-union at all. And it doesn’t have anything to do with ‘union busting.’ Instead, it is legislation that would dramatically alter the process under which unions organize – essentially turning upside down decades of established labor law.
Employers would lose the opportunity to be part of a dialogue with employees about forming a union; would face binding arbitration on a new contract within a short timeframe; and would be subject to stiff one-sided new penalties for any violations.
Employees would lose access to a secret ballot when deciding whether or not to unionize, and could be subject to coercion and strong arm tactics from union organizers.
Employers lose, employees lose . . . the only group that stands to gain under the Employee Free Choice Act is the union organizers themselves.