"Card Check" Is As Good As Dead; Binding Arbitration Lives


A canvass of labor leaders and strategists this morning confirms the diagnosis reached by the New York Times: there is not enough support in the Senate to change federal law to allow 'card check' elections anytime soon.  This is the first time since the start of the fight that labor leaders are conceding in private what has seemed to be apparent in public for a long while. The failure of card check, now known as "majority signup," speaks as much to the political priorities of the Obama administration as it does the power of moderate Democrats, most of whom opposed card check for fear of alienating employers in their mostly non-union districts. As of a few months ago, labor strategists could accurately claim as many as 58 votes in the Senate, just two shy of the magic 60 needed to avoid a filibuster. But even as President Obama and Vice President Biden dutifully praised card check in speeches, the White House did not put any political muscle into passing it, and they very clearly indicated to Congressional leaders that its passage was less important than health care, its economic stimulus efforts, its financial industry regulation proposals, and -- did we mention, health care, where the White House still believes that engagement with the private sector will push health care over the top in the end.  

The labor movement itself will argue about the politics of card check for years to come. What's also clear is that the abandonment of the card check provision will smooth passage of what's going to be the biggest labor reform bills since the Wagner Act. It will most likely include a version of binding arbitration, which is still anathema to big business.

A union strategist said that labor now insists that "any final bill has to include" the main principles upon which EFCA is based -- "one that lets workers choose to join a union without intimidation or harassment, ensures that workers who join a union get a first contract, and has meaningful penalties for violations."  The Employee Free Choice Act is going through the usual legislative process, and we expect a vote on a majority signup provision in the final bill or by amendment in both houses of Congress."

"The biggest obstacle isn't the leaks or the status of the negotiations, its having to wait until Byrd and Kennedy are here to vote," the strategist said, referring to the absence of Sen. Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy, both pro-labor stalwarts, both very ill.

Andrew Stern, president of the largest union, the SEIU, issued a short statement this morning testifying to the reality of the situation: "

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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