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April 10, 2013 / Paul Levy

Next step for labor in Washington

Thursday, November 6, 2008, 11:44am

With a new administration and Congress in place, we can expect a strong push for a new law that would eliminate secret ballot elections during certification drives by unions. This is the hallmark of efforts by the SEIU, which has received commitments from the President-elect and the Congressional Democrats that they will push this bill.

There is only one problem: Americans believe in secret ballot elections. Indeed, the one held on November 4 once again validates the importance of this great institution.

The SEIU and Democrats will try to brand Republicans as “anti-union” when they oppose this legislation. If the Republicans maintain a filibuster-proof minority in the Senate, the bill will not proceed. But even if the Democrats end up with 60 votes in the Senate, “Blue dog” Democrats will not want their name attached to this bill in a roll-call vote on cloture.

William B. Gould IV, chairman of the NLRB under President Clinton, recognizes this political reality in a Slate article published earlier this year, noting “Secret ballots to resolve union representation are the way to go.” He follows this up with his thoughts about a compromise on the certification process that he thinks would be broadly politically acceptable. I don’t know enough to know whether his detailed suggestions are reasonable, but his general analysis is certainly cogent.

One of the many tests facing the new President is whether he prefers to fight a combative battle on this issue — among all the others he is facing — or whether he will try an approach that brings people together.

And a similar question is whether Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, will acknowledge that Americans and their Congressional representatives will be very uncomfortable with his proposal to eliminate elections and will say quietly to his friend the President-elect, “If you back off from your commitment to card-check as part of a bi-partisan deal, labor will still support you and the Congresspeople who vote with you.”

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