Card-Check Threat Alive And Well

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Big Labor: If you thought "card check" legislation that would kill off workers' right to a secret ballot is dead, think again. Despite public repudiation, it's back — with its advocates using sneakier tactics.

The Employee Free Choice Act would permit the establishment of new unions solely on the signatures of a company's employees, taken either on the fly or with union thugs standing in their doorways.

Besides denying workers a right to a secret ballot, "card check," as it's known, also forces federal arbitration onto companies for union contracts, ensuring that either unions dictate the wages they want or a federal bureaucrat will step in and do it for them based on politics, not economics.

It's a formula for disaster. This still-undead bill will shut plants, drive jobs abroad and ensure that few new jobs are ever created. Little wonder the public has turned a thumbs-down on it, and Congress has backed away. A recent Pew poll shows that 61% of Americans think labor unions have gotten too powerful.

But it hasn't stopped Big Labor. Card check remains its top goal, and instead of dropping a bad idea, it's switching tactics.

Card-check supporters have begun a new lobbying effort that targets a few wavering senators including Democrats Dianne Feinstein, Arlen Specter and Mark Pryor. The idea is to put the squeeze on Congress instead of taking the case to voters.

It may be one reason why card check has morphed into new incarnations, the latest a "compromise" bill from Feinstein. She has proposed a mail-in card-check format, which still amounts to a denial of secret ballot. Curiously, Feinstein backed away from her own compromise Thursday, raising questions as to whether she was being manipulated and wanted out.

The other prong of the card-check lobby has set up a supposed "grassroots" group as a fig leaf for the same old Big Labor interests.

A new group calling itself "Business Leaders for a Fair Economy" has gotten press for its novelty value as a 1,000-member business group that actually favors card check. Its Web site says it's paid for newspaper ads in The Hill, Politico and Wall Street Journal, all closely read by the political set, urging Congress to pass card check.

"What is good for workers is good for business," its chairman says.

But at its Web site, not all its 1,000 members are identified, the way, say, members of a chamber of commerce might be.

Instead, there's a moving slide show of randomly identified, highly eclectic companies with a distinct countercultural tinge: "Boulder's Best Organics," "Ukush Handmade for Fair Trade," "Mother Earth Reverence Farms," "Justice Clothing," "Loughmiller's Pub," "Central Montessori School," "Montana Vintage Clothing," "DaMane's Hair Studio," "If Jesus Can't Fix It, Neither Can We," and "Swanton Berry Farm."

While we value entrepreneurs of all sorts, few are major employers or industry leaders, and wouldn't be affected by card check under most versions of the bill.

There are some radical foundations and trial lawyers on board, too. But among these mostly small enterprises, one heavy hitter stands out: Trillium Asset Management of Boston, which manages $1 billion in assets in "socially responsible" investments.

Trillium's site says its clients include foundations and nongovernmental organizations, and some of its employees are alumni of the AFL-CIO. Apparently, we're supposed to think Trillium and all its pals in the dog grooming business somehow spontaneously joined to endorse card check.

Both the lobbying effort on the narrowly targeted Senators and the sudden appearance of a "business group" that inexplicably supports card check suggest that the card-check lobby has shifted tactics from getting public support to quieter tactics of squeezing individual legislators instead.

If the right muscle is applied, they win. But card check won't be a truly democratic mechanism.

It underlines that unions are still supporting a bill that plainly repels the public. That card check hasn't been dead and buried long ago, but is now re-emerging in new forms, suggests a quieter and more lethal strategy to get it through Congress.

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