Harkin working on Employee Free Choice Act compromise

I saw on Talking Points memo's DC Wire that Senator Tom Harkin is sounding out Republican colleagues on a potential compromise for the Employee Free Choice Act, according to Roll Call. The Republican leadership will certainly try to filibuster this bill, and Democrats do not currently have 60 votes in favor. Some weaselly Democrats who voted for the EFCA in 2007 (knowing President Bush would veto it) are hedging now. In addition, Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who has supported the EFCA in the past, has flipped on the issue in light of a primary challenge from the right.

CEOs from three companies (Costco, Whole Foods and Starbucks) proposed a compromise on the EFCA recently. Harkin and other leading Democrats are not willing to accept that proposal for various reasons. For one thing, it would not include binding arbitration.

Earlier this month, Harkin had an excellent response to Republican critics who say we can't afford to help labor unions now:

"In 1935, we passed the Wagner Act that promoted unionization and allowed unions to flourish, and at the time we were at around 20 percent unemployment. So tell me again why we can't do this in a recession?" said  Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), invoking the pro-labor changes of the New Deal. "This is the time to do it. This is exactly the time we should be insisting on a fairer playing field for people to organize themselves."

The Center for American Progress Action Fund created this outstanding web page supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. You'll find many useful resources there, including a basic overview of what the EFCA would and would not do and an interactive map showing why unions are good for workers and the economy.

I clicked on Iowa and learned, "Union workers in Iowa make 8.40 percent ($1.48 per hour) more than non-union workers, on average." (Click here and scroll down the page to see how the Center for Economic Policy Research calculated those figures.) Higher wages are not only good for individual families, they boost the economy as a whole consumer spending drives so much economic activity.

I am pessimistic about the prospects for passing the EFCA this year, but I give Harkin credit for trying to find a compromise that would still make it significantly easier for workers to form unions.

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Real Plumbers For Employee Free Choice

You may have heard that Joe the Plumber has been recruited by a conservative group to be their new voice against the Employee Free Choice Act.

Greg Sargent reports:

Mr. Plumber will speak at rallies against the measure in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia on March 30th and 31st, according to a spokesperson for the anti-EFCA group Americans for Prosperity.

Hilariously, check out the reasoning behind dispatching Joe to Pennsylvania:

AFP urges Senator Sen. Arlen Specter to vote against Employee Free Choice Act

Which, of course, is a position Specter has already announced he will take. So, great work, Joe the Plumber is a huge success even before he's begun!

Greg Sargent dug a little deeper into the strategy behind the choice of Joe the Plumber to get their message out.

"The public loves Joe the Plumber," the spokesperson, Mary Ellen Burke, claimed to me. "They see him as a role model."

Asked whether Joe the Plumber had any particular knowledge or expertise about EFCA that might explain the decision to enlist him, Burke said that he was being enlisted to provide a "grassroots perspective" and "the working perspective" on the measure.

Pressed on whether Joe the Plumber has any particular claim to being a spokesperson on the issue, Burke replied that "he represents the American worker."

Riiiiight. Tell that to the real plumbers. Again from Sargent:

I checked in with Rick Terven, the political and legislative director for The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada...He tore into his high-profile plumber colleague as follows:

Joe the plumber is selling out real plumbers. Right now, labor law is stacked against real plumbers. Real plumbers want and need the Employee Free Choice Act as a way to empower themselves to join a union, without fear of intimidation or losing their jobs. Joe the Plumber doesn't speak for real plumbers.

Terven claimed that the Plumbers Union, which says it has over 300,000 members, had done a survey of non-union plumbers finding that 70% of them wanted to join a union if they could do so without fear of retribution, though I couldn't immediately get the details of their survey.

Actually, a real plumbers for EFCA tour throughout Pennsylvania isn't a half bad idea.

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Arlen Specter Caves On Employee Free Choice

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) has announced publicly that he intends to vote against cloture on The Employee Free Choice Act, thus depriving us of the 60th vote.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) just dealt a big blow to the labor movement by announcing publicly that he would support a GOP filibuster of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), unions' No. 1 priority for this year and a subject of intense lobbying on both sides of the aisle.

"My vote on this bill is very difficult for many reasons," Specter said in a Senate floor speech, minutes after the news was broken by the Washington Independent. "It is very hard to disappoint many friends ... who are urging me to vote their way."

But Specter affirmed that he would join his fellow Republicans to block cloture on EFCA, effectively dooming the union-organizing bill's chances of becoming law in its current form.

This represents a 180 for Specter from his vote for cloture in 2007, the only Republican vote the cloture motion received that year. On one hand, this switch shouldn't be surprising considering Specter is facing a tough primary challenge from Pat Toomey.

As Markos wrote on Twitter:

@markosmoulitsas Specter will vote against cloture for EFCA. Says he'll wait until economy improves, but really he meant "when I survive my primary"

In a very real way, with Specter's announcement today, Toomey's mission has already been accomplished -- keeping Specter from siding with Democrats on crucial legislation. Specter needs to go down.

Update [2009-3-24 15:53:40 by Todd Beeton]:And Specter lies about EFCA in his statement opposing cloture:

On the merits, the issue which has emerged at the top of the list for me is the elimination of the secret ballot which is the cornerstone of how contests are decided in a democratic society.

Even the Wall St. Journal conceded that EFCA "doesn't remove the secret ballot option."

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An Alternative Proposal to the EFCA Emerges

The details remain sketchy or perhaps better put remain a work in progress, but three major retailers are expected to back an alternative proposal to Employee Free Choice Act. From the Wall Street Journal:

Three big retailers are expected to back an alternative proposal next week on a hotly contested bill that would make it easier to unionize workplaces, a move some experts said would bolster the legislation's chance of passage.

Costco Wholesale Corp., Starbucks Corp. and Whole Foods Market Inc. are supporting the alternative proposal, according to someone familiar with the effort. Ray Krupin, a management labor lawyer in Washington said the most likely compromise would allow employees to unionize if 70% of them sign union-authorization cards, as opposed to 50% as currently proposed in the Employee Free Choice Act.

On Saturday, a person close to the discussions denied that the proposal backed by the three companies included a plan to let unions organize workers if 70% sign cards.

It's unclear whether the proposal addresses a thorny section of the bill that would have a government arbitrator draw up a contract if unions and companies can't agree to terms within 120 days.

Interesting mix of companies involved. I can't say that I know Starbucks very well other than to say that its employees hold the good company in good regard. I can speak to Costco and Whole Foods as I covered the companies during my time on the Street. In fact, they were my two favorite companies that I covered.

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Americans Like Unions, Employee Free Choice Act

So much for the notion that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is toxic, or even unpopular. Gallup provides some actual numbers on public sentiments towards the legislation, which is aimed at easing the excessively arduous path employees must take to unionize.

Generally speaking, would you favor or oppose a new law that would make it easier for labor unions to organize workers?

Favor: 53 percent
Oppose: 39 percent

Not only do Democrats support such legislation, to the tune of a 70 percent to 23 percent margin, but Independents also line up in favor by a 52 percent to 41 percent margin. Even a third of Republicans (34 percent) back such a bill, even as a 60 percent majority of the party's membership opposes it.

The high-priced lobbyists in Washington may have been able to convince, or at least begin to convince, some on Capitol Hill that Americans don't support the EFCA, that they will be willing to line up on the side of big business against the interests of working Americans -- but the numbers are fairly clear that this just isn't the case. I'm not holding my breath for the Senators (and it is the Senate that we're all watching to see if a conservative Republican filibuster could be broken) who purport to represent the middle of the political spectrum to be swayed by these numbers. But at the least these data should indicate to those wavering on the legislation that they would stand to gain from coming out on the side of workers, even if it might slow down the flow of large contributions to their campaign accounts.

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