Prospects for Card Check in the Obama Administration

Organized labor came out big for Barack Obama and other Democrats running for offices across the country, so we can expect the unions to demand the victorious Dems to enact legislation they want.

Chief among union priorities is the so-called Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would allow unions to circumvent secret balloting in union organizing elections. EFCA would allow a union to be recognized by the National Labor Relations Board as the exclusive bargaining agent for workers at a workplace if a majority of them signed union cards — a procedure known as “card check.” This would expose workers to high-pressure intimidation tactics which secret ballots are intended to avoid.

EFCA would also impose a system of binding arbitration, whereby a federally appointed arbitrator would impose a contract whenever labor and management cannot come to an agreement after the period of time stated in the law. (The current version of EFCA has a period of 120 days.)

The unions hope this measure will help them stem decades of membership decline in the private sector. But the reason for that decline is that the American economy has changed a lot since the era when unions were ascendant.

With the U.S. economy in the state it’s in, legislating card check and binding arbitration would be particularly harmful. One key to the resiliency of America’s economy is the nation’s flexible labor market. Introducing rigidities like these would impose costs not only on businesses, but also on workers, many of whom could face fewer job options as employers put off hiring decisions in the face of increased costs imposed on them by EFCA.

With the Democrats’ 60-seat Senate supermajority looking unlikely, Senate Republicans may be able to block some of the worst legislation to come before them. EFCA should be at the top of that category.

For more on card check, see here, here, and here.