Starbucks brews up a weak compromise

Lost in the hub-bub over AIG bonuses, basketball tournaments and new bank bailout plans was news over the weekend of a proposed compromise on the highly controversial union card-check legislation.

But the compromise would still make it possible for labor groups to unionize private workplaces without holding secret-ballot elections, and that is a mistake.

Three major retailers — Starbucks Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Whole Foods Corp. — broke with other business interests to offer a proposed compromise on card-check legislation, but they were met with opposition from both sides of the dispute.

Card-check rules are included in the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act. Under current law, in most instances when a union seeks to represent workers at a particular business, the employees must approve union representation through a secret-ballot election. However, the card-check measure would allow union representation if more than 50 percent of the workers sign cards saying they want union representation.

Labor leaders and their Democratic supporters in Congress say the change is needed because employers can intimidate workers to prevent them from voting for union representation. But, with secret-ballot elections, employers have no way of knowing whether a worker casts a ballot for or against union representation.

With the card-check system, union organizers who meet face-to-face with workers will know whether workers sign the cards or not. The potential for intimidation by the union and its supporters is far greater than with secret ballots.

The Starbucks-Costco-Whole Foods compromise would require 70 percent of employees at a workplace to sign cards to authorize union representation instead of a simple majority.

But that is little compromise at all. The intimidation problem remains and the secret ballot elections would be all but eliminated.

There are some good provisions in the proposed compromise — dealing with the length of unionizing campaigns and arbitration. But as long as the card-check provision is in there, business groups are right to oppose it.

We hope Colorado’s two new senators — identified as “conservadems” by one liberal pundits — will join other moderate Democrats and Republicans to help kill the Employee Free Choice Act.

Editor’s note: The following correction appeared on March 26:
“An editorial on Page 6A Tuesday, based on a national news story, incorrectly stated that Starbucks, Costco and Whole Foods supported a compromise to union card-check legislation that would authorize union representation if 70 percent of a business’s employees signed union cards. The compromise they support would require secret-ballow elections for union representation.”


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