WASHINGTON — Organized labor is nearing a deal to salvage legislation that could aid the union movement, but it had to drop “card check” — a key component of the original bill that would allow workers to form a union by signing cards instead of holding a secret ballot vote.
A Democratic official familiar with compromise talks on a bill to make forming union easier says union leaders are willing to drop the politically volatile “card check” plan to win over wavering Senate Democrats.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are still ongoing.
The compromise, however, would still include other factors labor officials desire including binding arbitration after 120 days if a new union and management can’t agree on a first contract and shortening the election time from 42 days from filing to 10 days.
Card check would allow employees to form a union as soon as a majority of workers sign cards supporting it. Businesses vehemently oppose that idea.
“The dropping of the card check provision is a major coup for employers,” Chantel Walker, head of the labor and employment practice group at the Las Vegas law firm Gordon & Silver, said. “That was the part of the bill we were most opposed to.”
Walker said shortened election cycles and arbitration “is still a very bad thing for the employer.”
Under current law, an employer can insist that workers vote by secret ballot.
Pilar Weiss, political director for the Culinary Local 226, cautioned in a statement that reports that the “card check” provision are dead are just speculation.
“We hope to see card check in the final version,” the statement said from the union, which represents approximately 60,000 workers in many hotel-casinos on the Strip and downtown.
A half-dozen Democratic lawmakers have spent weeks in closed-door meetings trying to work out a compromise version of the Employee Free Choice Act that can muster the 60 votes in the Senate needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.
That process took on more urgency last week as Minnesota Democrat Al Franken was sworn into the Senate, providing Democrats 60 seats when two Democratic-leaning independents are included.
The goal is to win over a handful of Democrats — like Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Dianne Feinstein of California — who have said they have problems with card check and other parts of the bill. Those lawmakers and others have faced enormous pressure from business groups vehemently opposed to the bill.
While giving up on card check is a setback for organized labor, a reworked bill would still offer a major overhaul of labor laws to help unions sign up more members.
The bill calls for binding arbitration if a new union and management can’t agree on a first contract and stiffens penalties on businesses that threaten or intimidate workers trying to form a union.
Labor advocates say binding arbitration is needed because almost half of unions that are recognized after a vote still don’t have contracts two years after being certified.
One of those unions is Las Vegas Dealers Local 721, which held successful organizing efforts at Wynn Las Vegas and Caesars Palace in 2007, but have yet to reach agreements on a contract.
An official for the dealers union said arbitration, which would see the federal government appoint an arbitrator, is of more concern.
“We believe we can win an election based on our record, based on our organization,” local union director Joseph Carbon said. “I think the part that’s certainly important is the fact that now you can sit at a table with an employer and they can lead you to an impasse.”
The union unsuccessfully tried to organize the Rio last July. It has held no organizing efforts since that defeat.
One compromise being discussed in Washington is to adopt baseball-style “final offer” arbitration, where both sides submit offers and the arbitrator picks one package offer or the other. The Democratic official said a compromise could extend the deadline to one year.
Other changes under discussion include allowing union elections to occur if 30 percent of workers sign cards and allowing union organizers greater access to work sites to help persuade employees to vote for a union.
Businesses groups that have spent millions on ads and lobbying campaigns railing against card check say its removal would not change their position. While card check has dominated the debate, business leaders say they were always more concerned about binding arbitration.
Sharon Powers, president and chief executive officer of the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said the 30 percent rule and union access to work sites would have negative consequences, especially for small businesses.
“Once that happens, the cost of doing business significantly increases and the ability of the small entrepreneur to start a business and build a business is going to be greatly thwarted,” Powers said.
Details of the agreement were first reported in The New York Times.
Review-Journal reporter Arnold M. Knightly contributed to this report.