Even as public opposition intensifies against President Obama's agenda in the teeth of an election year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on Monday he expects the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) to pass within the next few months.
However, the labor leader declined to discuss the possibility of compromised version of the bill that would drop the anti-secret ballot card check provision during the question and answer session following his luncheon address at the National Press Club (NPC).
Polling data shows that free market groups such as the Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI), National Right to Work (NRTW) and the Chamber of Commerce have been making considerable headway in their campaign against card check and are now focusing more attention on the harmful effects of EFCA's binding arbitration provision.
It is difficult to see where Trumka comes up with the needed 60 Senate votes.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) has already said that she would oppose EFCA. Other potential swing votes against the bill include Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.).
Nevertheless, Trumka anticipates that organized labor will prevail on EFCA before summer.
"I think you'll see the Employee Free Choice Act passed in the first quarter of 2010," he said during the Q and A session. "You'll see it have some real effect. We will start creating and making good jobs in this country again."
But it is unlikely the bill will move forward it its current form.
At least six Senate Democrats appear willing to drop card check in exchange for a repackaged version of the bill that maintains other paybacks to organized labor such as binding arbitration.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), EFCA's lead sponsor in the upper chamber, has joined with Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) to discuss the possibility of a compromise, according to press reports.
Trumka was asked about this very possibility during the Q and A session. Audience members submitted note cards with questions that were read by NPC President Donna Leinwand.
Ms. Leinwand: "Would you be willing to accept a compromise that drops card check but maintains binding arbitration?"
Mr. Trumpka: "If the person that asked the question has the power to do that, come on up and I'll bargain with you. Elsewise, I make it a habit of not bargaining in public."
The person who asked that question would be me.
Problem here is that the bill is so weighted against business interests that it is irredeemable even without card check. Business leaders and free market groups have already made it clear that the inclusion of binding arbitration in any compromise would be a "non-starter."
Under this provision, labor and management would have 120 days to reach an agreement before two-year contracts are set by federal mediators. There is little incentive here for unions to bargain in good faith, while holding out for federal intervention.
WFI released their own set of questions for Trumka on the merits of EFCA and its public appeal.
They are as follows:
1) Do you agree the top domestic priority is jobs and the economy? If so, how can legislation, namely the Employee ‘Forced' Choice Act (EFCA), which economists, analysts and small business owners have all stated will result in job loss and increased unemployment be a priority?
2) Do you agree that EFCA increases costs and burdens on employers during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and that some may be left with no other alternative outside layoffs and moving overseas?
3) Will EFCA be placed in the "jobs bill"? If so, does it threaten its passage?
4) Are you aware that public opinion polling demonstrates EFCA is opposed by the majority of Americans?
5) Do you think that EFCA helped or hurt Creigh Deeds in Virginia's gubernatorial election? Are you concerned the issue will be used against candidates in 2010?
6) You and other labor leaders have stated repeatedly that you have the 60 votes necessary to secure passage of EFCA. Do you have the votes today?
7) If union membership is as beneficial as you state, why is it that the most unionized states seem to have some of the highest unemployment rates?
I'll take the questions in No. 5.
Virginia's Bob McDonnell turned the legislation back on his Democratic opponent in his successful race for governor last year, as I explain here. This has not gone unnoticed at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) where card check is viewed as a liability for Democrats in Nevada, Arkansas, and Colorado.
Pennsylvania could also be added to this list where Sen. Specter is equivocating on his position. Rep. Joe Sestak, who ardently supports EFCA, is challenging Specter in his party's primary. Republican Pat Toomey now leads both Democrats.
In his talk, Trumka repeatedly attacked the Bush Administration and praised the "political courage" of President Obama. However, many of the labor reforms implemented under President Bush such as expanded financial disclosure requirements for labor leaders actually worked to the benefit of rank-and-file workers.
In the run up to 2010, it is worth asking Democrats and their union benefactors how they can rationalize President Obama's decision to reverse these reforms after running on greater transparency. The posturing in favor of average workers by union bosses who favor coercive legislation and looser disclosure requirements is worthy of a larger discussion.