In Order to Form a More Perfect Union…or Not

From The Washington Post:

As business and labor gird for battle over legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize, the debate could be transformed by a “third way” proposed by three companies that like to project a progressive image: Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods.

Like other businesses, the three companies are opposed to two of the Employee Free Choice Act’s components — a provision that would allow workers to form a union if a majority sign pro-union cards, without having to hold a secret-ballot election, and one that would impose binding arbitration when employers and unions fail to reach a contract after 120 days.

But the companies’ chief executive officers say they also recognize that just opposing the legislation, commonly called “card check,” is not enough because of the widespread perception in Democrat-dominated Washington that there is not a level playing field between labor and business. So the CEOs have come up with ideas they hope will form the basis of new legislation.

Original DVD cover.

Their proposal would maintain management’s right to demand a secret-ballot election and would leave out binding arbitration. The proposal would keep the third main element of card check — toughening the penalties for companies that retaliate against workers before union elections or refuse to engage in collective bargaining. But it would also toughen penalties for union violations, and it would make it easier for businesses to call elections to try to decertify a union.

To address labor’s concern that businesses intimidate workers before elections, it would set a fixed period in which an election must be held, limiting the delays that give employers time to exert pressure.


“We wanted to see what we can do to come up with a compromise position that is going to address the concerns of labor and also protect the sanctity of the collective bargaining process and secret ballot,” said Costco Wholesale chief executive James D. Sinegal.

Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz cast the proposal in more defensive terms. “The way the wind is blowing, we’re heading toward a bill that is not the right approach,” he said.


The Employee Free Choice Act has majority support in both chambers, but there are signs it may have trouble getting a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, where several centrist Democrats who previously supported it are expressing reservations.


The business lobby has been warning against any moves to tweak card check just enough to give centrists cover to support it. And word that a compromise is circulating from three “progressive” companies prompted business groups to warn yesterday against premature compromise.

But it is possible that the proposal will generate even greater opposition among unions and their supporters in Congress.


Labor unions, though, are adamant that workers be able to choose to organize via card check so they can avoid employer intimidation before elections. They say binding arbitration is needed because so many companies refuse to bargain — nearly half of new unions never even get a contract.

The three CEOs are at odds with those planks. Whole Foods Market chief executive John Mackey said that binding arbitration is “not the way we normally do things in the United States” and that allowing workers to organize without a secret ballot “violates a bedrock principle of American democracy.”

And the CEOs also do not share the labor movement’s underlying belief that the decline of organized labor has contributed to income inequality and the economy’s current imbalance. “That so few companies are unionized is not for a lack of trying but because [unions] are losing elections — workers aren’t choosing to have labor representation,” Mackey said. “I don’t feel things are worse off for labor today.”

Of the three companies, only Costco has a substantial minority of employees that are unionized — about a fifth of its hourly employees belong to the Teamsters, with whom it has good relations. Starbucks and Whole Foods have resisted most unionizing efforts.

From (Bloomberg):

The chief sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act, Representative George Miller of California and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, both Democrats, said in an e-mailed statement that the company-backed alternative is “unacceptable” and “written by CEOs, for CEOs.”

Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO, said “a proposal coming from corporations, some of whom have their own history of violating workers’ rights, is simply not an alternative.”

Business groups trying to defeat the Employee Free Choice Group rejected the alternative approach as well.

“No proposal that makes it easier for union bosses (or employers) to impose forced unionism on workers is acceptable,” said Doug Stafford, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, in a statement.


Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Home Depot Inc. and Burger King Holdings Inc. are among companies that oppose the card-check bill, as does billionaire investor Warren Buffett, an Obama supporter and adviser. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said it will spend more than $20 million to defeat the measure.


Several Democratic senators — including Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor from Wal-Mart’s home state of Arkansas, and Mark Warner of Virginia — have said they aren’t sure they will support the current version of the card-check measure.


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18 responses to “In Order to Form a More Perfect Union…or Not

  1. And to think that Whole Foods and Starbucks are businesses that are considered both progressive and friendly to their workers.

  2. writechicpress

    Great title!

    We’ve gone so far away from anything protecting employees. It’s hard for me to imagine something good happening for the little guy.

  3. sanityinjection

    The proposal represents a good-faith compromise effort. And it’s fair. Which is why the unions will never accept it. The key is the quote from the AFL-CIO: “a proposal coming from corporations, some of whom have their own history of violating workers’ rights, is simply not an alternative.”

    In other words, any idea that is proposed by management is inherently unacceptable simply because it comes from management. And then they wonder why we end up with layoffs.

    • In other words, any idea that is proposed by management is inherently unacceptable simply because it comes from management.

      and, to rethuglicans, anything that comes from the unions is inherently uncacceptable simply because it comes from labor.

      forgive me for not siding with corporations. the workers have been getting screwed for decades, so don’t ask me to whip out a violin and play a sad song for the greedy corporate overlords.

    • jeb

      I can’t let this go by without jumping in. It would be nice if this really were “a good-faith compromise effort” but as LBJ used to say, “Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”

      The reality is that Starbucks, Whole Foods and Costco have a long history of anti-labor strategies. I read an excellent expose on Whole Foods anti-labor stance some six years ago.

      Layoffs are not labor’s fault. The fault lies with the mentality that believes all of the power and the bulk of the profits belong to the top few.

      What’s even more sickening is that these companies have marketed themselves as friendly corporations. If they practiced their advertising they’d do much better. Companies that invest in a partnership with their employees may not show immediate short-term gains, but they will succeed in the long run because the workers are stakeholders and have more of an interest than just a paycheck.

      • well said, jeb. there was a time when companies were faithful to their employees and to their customers. now, they care only about their shareholders, ceos, or making a fast buck. loyalty and quality are things of the past. very sad.

  4. sanityinjection

    nonnie – The danger of constantly expressing yourself in cliches is that eventually you become incapable of thinking outside of them. I bet you would be surprised at what some “rethuglicans” have done to help unions and their members.

    In real life, as opposed to the blogosphere, progress always comes from compromise. In this particular case, the “greedy corporate overlords” are proposing a compromise. If the unions are willing to respond in kind, then perhaps a solution can be found. If not, it will be the unions’ own intransigence that is to blame, regardless of what has occurred in the past. When dealing with people you have had problems with in the past, which is more productive: to endlessly hold a grudge or to try to overcome points of difference?

    • funny how when you said the same thing that i did but switched unions and management, it was the wisdom of the ages while my statement was a cliche. it is also rather funny how the rethuglicans, when they controlled both the presidency and congress (not to mention the supreme court), never compromised, but now that the dems are in charge, rethugs wring their little hands and talk about how compromise is the only way to make progress.

  5. sanityinjection

    And yet, I am capable of viewing my opponents as well-meaning human beings without the need to consistently demean them with childish word games.

    As it happens, I agree with you that one of the Bush Administration’s biggest flaws was their stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise. Of course, Republicans are not a monolith (does that surprise you?) and you’ll find plenty of Republicans in the Senate, such as John McCain, who have always been willing to compromise with Democrats. Or should I stoop to your level and call them “Democommies”?

    • guess what! this is a partisan blog. i don’t like the republican party. i don’t like what they stand for, i don’t like their tactics, and i don’t like most of the people in that party. if you can’t deal with that, there are plenty of other blogs you can visit. there are people who disagree with me who visit here, and i get along with them famously. if my posters or my words make you angry, you will be doing yourself and your blood pressure a favor by visiting other blogs that are more to your liking.

  6. sanityinjection

    Yes, I can see you’d prefer that I not continue to force you to confront your knee-jerk thinking. Since you clearly can’t engage in a serious policy discussion, I’ll do you that favor. For the record, though, my blood pressure is quite healthy 🙂