Congress revisits card-check legislation

WASHINGTON As hundreds of supporters of organized labor stormed Capitol Hill on Tuesday in a bid to make their voices heard, lawmakers in the House and Senate responded by reintroducing the controversial Employee Free Choice Act — also known as the union card check bill.

Opposed strongly by the foodservice industry and other business groups, the card-check bill would replace employees' right to private-ballot elections with a card-check system in which they would sign a card in favor of union representation. The bill also would provide for a binding arbitration process if a contract is not agreed to within 120 days of union recognition.

The bill, which many believe would help organized labor step up unionizing efforts by ending private-ballot elections, was passed by the House of Representatives in 2007 by a vote of 241 to 185. It failed to pass in the Senate, though, where it won only 51 of the 60 votes needed.

Passing card-check legislation is a priority of organized labor, which helped Barack Obama win the presidency and the Democrats strengthen their hold on Congress.

But many employers are adamantly opposed to card-check legislation. According to the National Restaurant Association, a unionized workforce could increase labor expenses by 20 percent at the unit level.

"This could alter the fundamental cost structure of restaurant operations," B. Hudson Riehle, the NRA's senior vice president of research and information services, said Tuesday during an industry event in New York sponsored by J.H. Cohn.

Officials at the International Franchise Association are similarly concerned.

"If enacted, this bill will severely harm small businesses across the country at a time when they are struggling to stay afloat Ñ entirely at the expense of employee privacy," said David French, IFA vice president of government relations.

The latest version of the card-check measure was introduced Tuesday in the House by George Miller, D-Calif., and in the Senate by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

But while Obama previously has said he would sign a card-check bill if it were passed, observers believe he has begun to back-pedal given the problems with the economy. Earlier, The Washington Post had reported that he "gave his support for legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize, but he said there may be other ways to achieve the same goal without angering businesses."

Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected] [3].