Specter, Starbucks, and Card Check

Karen Kerrigan

SBE Council delivered a letter to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) today, which applauded him for announcing his opposition to "card check" legislation - a bill that would take away the flexibility and operational authority small firms currently have to run their firms, while eviscerating employee access to a secret ballot when deciding on workplace unionization. In the previous Congress, Senator Specter was a co-sponsor of the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" and voted for cloture (which failed) to move the bill to a full Senate vote.

While some commentators now believe that "card check" is a dead issue (as Senator Specter's support was needed for the 60 votes required to bring the legislation to the Senate floor), a compromise was recently proposed by three big businesses whose livelihood is partly tied to small business customers - Starbucks, Costco Wholesale and Whole Foods. Lanny Davis, who is representing the companies, said the purpose behind the proposal is to "trigger a conversation" between opposing sides to come up with a solution. The only thing that their engagement appears to have triggered is an avalanche of criticism from both sides - business and labor - who have roundly denounced their efforts, as well as the general proposal.

In short, the compromise continues to favor union organizing over worker and workplace choice. The plan is an interventionist measure that is tilted toward bucking up union membership through the powers of the federal government. I don't know who is advising Starbucks, Costco and Whole Foods on their foray into these policy waters, but it certainly appears that their engagement has backfired. They have managed to alienate a wide swath of their customer base during a bad economy. So while their efforts appear to be dead, the fight against the original "card check" bill remains.

The legislation supporting the enactment of "card check" is incredibly backwards, and would expose all firms to the same cost-containment issues and operational inflexibility that is killing
U.S. automakers. In an Open Letter to Congress on March 12, 2009, SBE Council spelled out its concerns when legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate:

• "The legislation supporting ‘card check' will encourage disunity, coercion and intimidation in the workplace. Employees and business owners are already facing enormous pressures as a result of the recession. Fortunately, they are working together to develop solutions and strategies for surviving the turmoil."

• "Under the terms of the legislation, small business owners could lose the freedom and flexibility to alter their business operations in response to market, economic and global competitive demands. The legislation would allow government arbitrators to impose binding, two-year terms on workers and employers within a very short period of time following unionization if a contract agreement is not reached. It is unimaginable that legislation mandating such command-and-control terms has been introduced given the horrible shape of our economy."

• "Even in the best of times, U.S. small business owners require flexibility in managing costs and operations to stay competitive and nimble in our global economy. It is one of the key advantages they we currently enjoy in the world marketplace. The mandatory binding arbitration language spelled out in the proposed legislation, combined with taking away an employee's right to a private ballot will move our nation, our economy and workplaces backward."

With "card check" being the union bosses' number one priority for this Congress and legislative session, the fight is hardly over.
U.S. Senators and House members need to continue to hear from small business owners and entrepreneurs about the dangers of "card check" to overcome another wave of labor union activism in the coming months. And if you happen to live in Pennsylvania, please drop Senator Specter a note to thank him for boldly announcing his opposition to the current "card check" bill.

Karen Kerrigan, President & CEO SBEC
Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved

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