‘Card Check’ Is on Ice, but Bill Foes Won’t Chill

Lobbying Groups That Are Working Against the Employee Free Choice Act Keep Up Their Fight

Posted June 4, 2010 at 4:52pm

The “card check” bill shows no signs of life, at least not in this Congress.

But that doesn’t mean the groups that sprang up to fight the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize, are disbanding.

At least three business groups — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace and the Workforce Fairness Institute — are all continuing the fight.

“We’ve all seen horror movies before,” the Workforce Fairness Institute’s Katie Packer said. “Just when the villain is down, that’s when he raises a knife.”

All three groups say they will continue to be vigilant.

“It’s always kind of about keeping watch,” the CDW’s Rhonda Bentz said. “There are still some opportunities to chop up the bill and attach it to other things.”

The chamber’s Randy Johnson agrees.

“EFCA could still be brought up, and we want as many noes as possible” if that happens, Johnson said.

Still, he conceded that the chamber’s initiative is expanding its reach to other work force issues as “card check” has subsided as a top legislative priority on the Congressional calendar.

“We don’t plan to wind down at all; the challenges are greater,” Johnson said. “We’ve shifted gears to more technical changes to the law and on the regulatory side.”

The Workforce Freedom Initiative has also had a leadership change. Steven Law, who led the group’s five-person team, left in April to become president and CEO of American Crossroads, a new Republican political organization. The chamber’s Lisa Rickard has taken over as head of the initiative.

‘Shooting Fish in a Barrel’

Focusing on technical or arcane legal changes to labor law comes with its own challenges. Business groups had great success in raising money and getting their members interested in EFCA because it was easy to understand.

“It was like shooting fish in a barrel on sound bites,” Johnson said of EFCA. That is not so for many of the regulatory issues coming down the pipe that deal with contractor classifications and agency rulings, and that could translate to fewer funds from contributors to keep the fight up.

“There’s always a concern that you won’t have enough money,” Johnson said.

The CDW’s Bentz said the group isn’t pushing for additional funds from members right now.

“We’re not asking because we know there are other priorities,” Bentz said. “This issue, while we want to keep paying attention — bird-dogging it pretty closely — we’re not in a place where we need to ask for resources from members.”

The CDW’s members run the gamut of the business community, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Retail Federation, the American Hospital Association, the American Beverage Association, the American Meat Institute and the American Frozen Food Institute.

Even though the CDW has a large volunteer force, Bentz said there is little overhead beyond her salary as a communications consultant. Similarly, the Workforce Fairness Institute only has two people employed on a full-time basis in Washington, D.C.

While EFCA remains the CDW’s top priority, the coalition is also expanding its reach.

“The primary focus is ‘card check’ because that could take on a lot of different forms, so the group is somewhat flexible in how we develop,” Bentz said. “With the Craig Becker nomination, the [National Labor Relations Board] becomes much more of a significant concern.”

All three groups opposed Becker, a former AFL-CIO associate general counsel, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to the NLRB. After the Senate failed to confirm Becker, Obama made him a recess appointment to the position.

Becker is unlikely to be the last NLRB fight that the groups put up this year. The board’s Republican general counsel is leaving later this month, and lone GOP board member Peter Schaumber’s term expires in August. Should the replacement nominee be in Becker’s mold, that could tee up another battle, according to the Workforce Freedom Initiative’s Justin Hakes.

Playing in Politics

The Workforce Fairness Institute also has its sights set on the elections in November. The group launched a campaign in Kentucky last week, putting together a coalition of grass-roots stakeholders opposed to “card check.” Packer said the stakeholders plan to send out a questionnaire to federal candidates, asking them whether they oppose “card check.”

The group had a similar effort in Arkansas and has plans to play aggressively in Nevada and Colorado.

“Sen. [Harry] Reid will have to face the citizens in his state and answer for his support,” Packer said.

Similarly, Packer said her organization would like to force Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who has yet to come out publicly on where he stands on EFCA, to take a clear position.

“We’re engaging throughout this year in states and local races where there are competitive battles to force this issue to the forefront,” Packer said.