The latest version of the Employee Free Choice Act has hit the table. Let the fireworks begin.
Sen. Arlen Specter — the Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat who’s been the linchpin of the controversy over the pro-union proposal — has unveiled his version of the legislation. He picked a likely locale: the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh.
Here are the highlights of Specter’s offering:
- “Card check” discarded. This was the bill’s sorest spot — a provision that would allow unions to be formed through a simple majority of employees signing cards indicating their approval, a substantive shift from the current requirement that unions can only be formed after secret-ballot elections. The fact that the provision’s not included in Specter’s bill comes as no surprise. He swore he’d never vote for EFCA if card check was part of the package, and he was joined in that opinion by several right-leaning Democratic colleagues.
- Strict time frames for elections. Labor groups have long complained that with no deadline, employers can extend the period before secret balloting is held to intimidate employees. Specter’s bill would set a specific time limit between the date organizers announce they have sufficient employee support and when the actual voting takes place.
- Mandatory arbitration. Labor leaders have long complained that employers unfairly dig in their heels during the “first contract” process — to the point where many newly formed unions simply fall apart because the negotiations drag on for months, sometimes years. Specter’s proposal would require the parties to enter into mandatory arbitration after a specific negotiating period. But he adds a bone for employers who are wary of giving mediators the power to dictate contract terms.
The measure would require both union and management to submit their “last best offer” for arbitration. The mediator would then be required to pick one or the other; the arbiter would not have the power to come up with a compromise. Such a requirement would prevent unions from “asking for the moon” in the hope a mediator devises a deal that splits the difference between the two parties.
- Equal time. Union organizers would be guaranteed equal access to workers, if the employer holds anti-union meetings during regular work hours.
- Triple time. Under the Specter proposal, penalties for employers who violate labor laws during organizing efforts would be three times as harsh as they stand today.
Will this version of EFCA pass? At this point, it’s anybody’s guess. With the recent death of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), the Democrats lack the required 60 votes to block a filibuster in the Senate. Nonetheless, Specter said he expected EFCA to pass “before the year is out.”
We’ll keep you posted.
For a look at some of the political maneuvering around Specter’s move, go here.