Here’s What’s Next on Health Care Reform

Congressional floor debate on health care could begin as early as October 13. That’s the goal of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

First, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote this week (work resumes on Tuesday) on its version. The only real suspense is whether Republican Olympia Snowe (Maine) will cross over and vote for the measure. At the same time, Reid and other Senate leaders are trying to combine that proposal with elements of the one approved earlier by the House HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) committee.

Despite that HELP proposal, the House is still battling over Medicare reimbursement rates, trying to trim $200 billion from the cost of the bill and the final shape of the public option.

This is becoming the defining issue of the year. Immigration was pushed back early, there doesn’t appear to be the support for EFCA and most are now conceding that cap and trade will have to wait until when, and if, the health care debate is settled.

The drama, particularly when the issue hits the floor, will continue; the results are unknown.

There’s Nothing ‘Free’ in This ‘Choice’

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 Prosperity Project has the details and offers you the ability to communicate your opposition to EFCA to your representatives in Washington.
The Indiana Chamber will host another EFCA seminar with Barnes & Thornburg in late August, featuring the most recent information. E-mail [email protected] to be added to the list to receive future information about this program. 

McGovern Still Rejects EFCA — Explains it’s Destructive in More Ways than One

We highlighted former Democratic Senator and presidential nominee George McGovern’s cerebral objection to the Employee "Free Choice" Act back in August, but he explained himself even further in today’s Wall Street Journal. A must read for any business:

The recent news that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter has become a member of the Democratic caucus has given new life to legislation that many thought had been put to rest for this Congress — the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

Last year, I wrote on these pages that I was opposed to this bill because it would eliminate secret ballots in union organizing elections. However, the bill has an additional feature that isn’t often mentioned but that is just as troublesome — compulsory arbitration.

This feature would give the government the power to step into labor disputes where employers and labor leaders cannot reach an agreement and compel both sides to accept a contract. Compulsory arbitration is bound to trigger the law of unintended consequences.

Currently, labor law maintains a careful balance between the rights of businesses, unions and individual employees. While bargaining power differs depending on individual circumstances, the rights of the parties are well balanced. When a union and a business enter negotiations, current law requires that both sides bargain "in good faith."

In a contract negotiation, each party typically perceives the other as too demanding. But no one loses their right to contract willingly or suffers being forced to agree to anything. Employees can strike if they feel that they have been dealt with unfairly, but it is a costly option. Employers are free to reject labor demands they find to be too difficult to accept, but running a business without experienced employees is itself difficult. Both sides have an incentive to press their demands, but they also have compelling reasons not to press their demands too far. EFCA would disrupt that balance by enabling government-appointed lawyers to decide what they believe is fair or reasonable.

A federally appointed arbitrator cannot be expected to understand the nuances specific to each business dispute, the competitive market position of the business, or the plethora of other factors unique to each case. Yet fundamental decisions on wages and benefit costs, rules for promotions, or even rules for exiting an unprofitable line of business could fall to federal arbitrators under EFCA.

Specter’s Change of Heart Throws Wrench in EFCA (Eyes Now Turn to Bayh)

The Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would modify existing labor law to eliminate the secret ballot in union-organizing elections and impose mandatory arbitration on parties to labor disputes, fortunately suffered a hiccup in the Senate last week.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) took to the floor and announced that – unlike in years’ past – he would not support the EFCA or even a cloture vote to debate this legislation. A key moderate vote in the Senate, Specter’s change of heart (perhaps triggered by home-state polls showing him down double digits in the primary) effectively derailed the EFCA in the Senate. However, rumors of potential “compromise” on the legislation began surfacing and it could still move in the House.

The Indiana Chamber forcefully opposes this bill, which would overturn nearly 70 years of labor law and place businesses at a distinct disadvantage in any union-organizing effort. This is labor’s top priority this Congress, but many centrist Democrats are running scared from the bill because it would stifle new jobs and business investment during a profound economic recession – reasons cited by Sen. Specter in his floor speech. Like Specter, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D) will be a critical vote on this issue, and the Indiana Chamber, among others, has informed Sen. Bayh of our strong opposition to the bill. While some speak of compromise, the elimination of the secret ballot in union elections and binding arbitration language in this bill are completely unacceptable to business.

Call to Action: Contact Sen. Bayh at (202) 224-5623 or send a letter through to urge him to oppose the EFCA and vote against any cloture motion in the Senate concerning this bill. Also, let your representative know your position on the EFCA and urge him or her to also oppose it.

States Seek Pre-emptive Strike Against Card Check

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.

Avoid the EFCA Rat Trap

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.

Hmm . . . I smell a rat.

EFCA Spells TROUBLE for Employees, Employers — We Can Help

When Congress passes this "little" stimulus thing, one of the items expected to be on the fast track is the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). I would much rather see a "fast track" on the trade promotion authority needed to maintain and grow our country’s status in the global market, but that’s another story.

EFCA will end secret ballot union elections and impose unreasonable mediation/arbitration provisions on initial contract negotiations. Union leaders like it; employers and many employees won’t. As we’ve documented on this blog, even the Chicago Tribune and former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern think it will be detrimental to workers.

Being prepared from a company perspective will be essential. The Indiana Chamber can help with the February 20 Employee Free Choice Act Seminar. A minimal investment and three hours of your time may pay tremendous dividends down the road.

House of Cards: Chicago Tribune Criticizes Employee Free Choice Act

The Chicago Tribune editorial page recently took a swipe at the proposed Employee Free Choice Act card-check bill, concluding, "the inaptly named Employee Free Choice Act would be good for labor bosses. But it wouldn’t be good for laborers."

The Trib writes:

The Employee Free Choice Act would allow unions to create local bargaining units without winning the vote of a majority of workers in a secret ballot.

The local unit would be certified if a majority of workers endorsed it by signing an authorization card handed out by union organizers.

Fair enough? Not really. The so-called card-check bill would not protect workers and it would not be "free choice." It would strip away their right to vote in secret, making it more likely they would face intimidation from organizers and other workers. The pressure would be on to check the card, whether or not they actually wanted a union.

Once the union was certified by a card check, the employer would have to accept arbitration if a contract couldn’t be negotiated within 120 days.

It’s clear why union bosses want this law. Union membership ticked up last year, but it has been plunging for half a century. In the 1950s, about one-third of U.S. workers belonged to a union. Now just 12.1 percent of U.S. workers—and just 7.5 percent of private-sector workers—are in a union.

There are many reasons for that decline, including the growth of the service sector economy, the movement of manufacturing jobs overseas—and the choice of workers who believe that a union would require them to pay dues but wouldn’t benefit them.

We’ve written about this before, noting that even George McGovern thinks this is a bad idea.

McGovern & Heritage Agree: Employee Free Choice Act Light on “Free”

James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation offers his assertion that the proposed Employee Free Choice Act effectively ends worker privacy and hinders their ability to make personal choices regarding union membership. He argues that while EFCA could be a boon to union dues, it would help little else and deliver a crushing blow to worker freedom:

Organized labor’s highest legislative priority is the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). EFCA replaces secret ballot elections—the method by which most workers join unions—with publicly signed union cards. While eliminating secret ballots is extremely unpopular, many EFCA support­ers argue that the legislation merely gives workers the choice between organizing using secret ballots or pub­licly signed cards. This argument is false; nothing in the legislation gives workers any control over union organizing tactics. Though EFCA still allows for secret ballot elections under unusual circumstances, stan­dard union organizing tactics ensure that publicly signed union cards will dominate the recognition pro­cess. As a result, the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act effectively eliminates secret ballot elections.

Former Democratic Senator and presidential nominee George McGovern also penned this column for the Wall Street Journal earlier this month:

To my friends supporting EFCA I say this: We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret-ballot election … To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed.