Sunday, May 17, 2009

Harkin Optimistic for ‘Card Check’ Bill’

CQ Politics

After many setbacks, the “card check” bill’s chief Senate sponsor is expressing new optimism that the legislation, which would ease union organizing, could be on the Senate floor this summer.

In recent weeks, Tom Harkin , D-Iowa, has been meeting with a small number of senators, with occasional input from Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., to hash out alternatives to the legislation (S 560, HR 1409) that would still reflect its basic purpose: making it easier for workers to certify and join viable unions.

Compromise has been on the agenda since the legislation was introduced in March, but strategies have changed in recent weeks, as getting 60 votes in the Senate has evolved from exploring common principles to examining what can be excised in order to bring the bill to the floor — even if that means taking the “card check” out of card check.

Much of the effort centers on Arlen Specter , D-Pa., who has discussed the bill with Harkin since switching political parties in April.

Publicly, Specter has remained open to supporting some form of the legislation, but has insisted that he still opposes the bill’s card check provision — which would allow workers to form unions by petition, in addition to secret-ballot election — and its contract arbitration provisions.

But Harkin indicated last week that Specter’s hard-and-fast stance on the card check language is softening. “He’s willing to negotiate,” Harkin said. “Things are being done both at the staff level and at the member level.”

Among the alternatives being discussed, according to congressional aides and experts on labor policy, are establishing finite time windows for secret-ballot elections to take place once ordered; establishing a mail-in ballot process by which the National Labor Relations Board could not only certify but also monitor elections, thereby preventing employer interference; and the idea of “last, best offer” negotiations, where an arbitrator would choose between a union’s offer and that of an employer in setting the terms of a contract.

If senators can reach an agreement, Harkin says he will take the bill directly to the floor. That’s a turnaround from a few months ago, when he pledged to take the bill through the regular committee process.......

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