Card Check Loses Support, but Threat Isn’t Over

Today in The Wall Street Journal, Kimberley Strassel dissects the shifting political prospects for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), commonly known as the “card check” bill. (“Card check” is a unionization procedure whereby union organizers circumvent the secret ballot process by getting workers to sign union cards in the open, exposing them  to aggressive, hard-sell intimidation tactics.)

It hasn’t been much noticed, but the political ground is already shifting under Big Labor’s card-check initiative. The unions poured unprecedented money and manpower into getting Democrats elected; their payoff was supposed to be a bill that would allow them to intimidate more workers into joining unions. The conventional wisdom was that Barack Obama and an unfettered Democratic majority would write that check, lickety-split.

Instead, union leaders now say they are being told card check won’t happen soon. It seems the Obama team plans to devote its opening months to important issues, like the economy, and has no intention of jumping straight into the mother of all labor brawls. It also seems Majority Leader Harry Reid, even with his new numbers, might not have what it takes to overcome a filibuster. It’s a case study in how quickly a political landscape can change, and how frequently the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Paradoxically, it’s Mr. Reid’s bigger majority that is now hurting him. In 2007, he got every Democrat (save South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, who was out sick) to vote for cloture. But it was an easy vote. Democrats like Mr. Pryor knew the GOP held the filibuster, and that Mr. Bush stood ready with a veto. Now that Mr. Reid has 58 seats, red-state Democrats in particular are worried they might actually have to pass this turkey, infuriating voters and businesses back home.

Indeed, it’s much harder to stand behind a vote when it may lead to tangible consequences, so it’s not that surprising that the prospect of card check actually passing should scare some of its former alleged supporters away — especially with an election being over. But the business community and Senate Republicans need to look beyond card check at EFCA’s other provisions, which would impose other kinds of burdensome labor regulation: binding arbitration and increased “unfair labor practice” penalties on employers.

Binding arbitration would oblige the federal government to appoint an arbitrator, who would impose a contract in a labor dispute, if a union and an employer did not reach an agreement after 120 days. This would allow one side to wait out the 120-day period before having a contract imposed — and since an imposed contract would bring the union closer to its demands relative to conditions under the expired contract, the union would be more likely to use this provision to its advantage. So much for freedom of contract.

In addition, increased penalties for employers over alleged “unfair labor practices” would give unions yet another club to threaten employers with during organizing drives.

As Strassel notes, “Credit for this new environment [of loss of support for card check] goes to a business community that has been uncharacteristically unified in a sweeping campaign against the bill.” However, even as card check begins to lose support, the business community needs to focus on EFCA’s other provisions, which are also extremely harmful — and should be no less radioactive.