Card Check Hiding In The Shadows

Lost in all of the hoopla surrounding new programs to rescue the financial sector, bailout Detroit, Obama’s staff appointments and his fiscal stimulus plan is a blockbuster that promises to grab a lot of the spotlight come January 22. That issue is card check.

The Wall Street Journal points out that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is gearing up to fight this one to the last man. Supposedly, a war chest of some $10 million to fight the issue. In its simplest form, card check eliminates the secret ballot vote involving union organizing elections. The Chamber of Commerce suggests that the issue may well define Obama’s relationship with U. S. business for his entire term.

The unions feel as if they are owed card check as payment for their overwhelming support of the Democrats in the election. Obama said on the campaign trail that he supported the concept and the Democratic leadership in Congress seems to be foresquare behind it as well.

The unions have other issues that they want to see legislation proceed on as well.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007, approved by the House but blocked in the Senate, would effectively eliminate the statute of limitations on pay-discrimination lawsuits, making it easier for workers to sue their employers over unequal pay. The proposal is named for a woman whose suit for back pay was denied because the courts ruled she had waited too long to file her claim.

The Healthy Families Act would improve paid sick leave for union workers. The Respect Act — Respect is an acronym for Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradeworkers — would sharply limit which workers are classified as supervisors, a boon to unions, which now can’t organize supervisors under federal law.

Some in union circles talk of trying to reverse the Right to Work laws that are enforced in 22 states, which forbid unions and employers to make union membership or dues a condition of employment.

Unions also will play a big role in debates over health care and trade agreements

I have never belonged to a trade union, though, I have no general animosity towards them. Neither of my parents were union workers though their parents were and they had a lifelong feeling of gratitude to the union movement which they felt had bettered their parents’ lives and by implication theirs as well. I also don’t subscribe to the notion that unions and free market capitalism can’t coexist and thrive together. Too many examples of successful partnerships exist and besides, the proposition is illogical.

Having said that, I find the prospect of card check to be quite discomforting. Through decades of investigations, prosecutions and incarceration of law breakers on both the union and company side, we seem to have arrived at a place at which relative peace and honest exist in the dealings of one with the other. To introduce a tactic that strips the individual of his right to make a decision privately and free of coercion has the feel of not only a backward step in terms of labor/management relations but also of an infringement of personal liberty.

I can understand the desire of labor to reverse the decline in membership and, in fact, I wish them well. I am late in joining the income inequality crowd but have become convinced that it is a serious and growing issue in this country. To the extent that expanded union membership can help to close the gap then so much the better. In opposing card check and other labor issues, American business is going to have to come to grips with the inequality issue as well. Business engenders very little good will in this country right now and if seen to be resisting increased income for the middle class it may well find itself with few allies.

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