WASHINGTON—Six years after it was first introduced, the contentious Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) will either be enacted by the U.S. Congress or go down in defeat in the next few months, according to officials at the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Long opposed to the bill’s provisions on card check-based union elections and mandatory arbitration, Marlene Colucci and her team at the AH&LA have stepped up their already determined efforts to derail EFCA in recent weeks.
Accordingly, getting the proposed legislation “off the table” was the centerpiece of the AH&LA’s annual, two-day Legislative Action Summit that was held here last month.
“One way or the other, we expect to see some resolution this year. Even if Congress takes until summer to push out a bill, webelieve that organized labor, which has been EFCA’s primary promoter, still will feel this year is the best time to get the bill done,” said Colucci, who is the AH&LA’s executive vp for public policy, during a break on the first day of the Summit.
“The longer they let it go out there, the more difficult it is going to be for members of both the House and the Senate to act,” continued Colucci, who refers to the bill as the Employee “Forced” Choice Act.
The latest versions of the bill were introduced in the House and Senate last month. In March of 2007, an earlier version passed the House and was then sent to the Senate for a vote. But it prompted a filibuster and was blocked from final consideration three months later. At the time, President George Bush indicated he would veto the bill if it came to his desk.
As a result of last November’s election, the majority in both Houses has swung to the Democrats. During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama suggested he would sign the bill should he be elected and it came to his desk, a position he may be stepping away from now.
To help support its case, the AH&LA governmental affairs team has been working with Representatives and Senators on both sides of the aisle, a number of whom addressed the summit attendees. House Republican Whip Eric Cantor took aim squarely at what is probably EFCA’s most controversial element, the provision known as card check. “Card check eliminates the private ballot in union elections, which, by itself, is sufficient reason to kill the bill. It robs people of their right to determine whether they want a union without their supervisor and co-workers knowing how they chose to vote,” Cantor said.
According to the EFCA, union organizers need only a simple majority of employees in order to gain collective bargaining rights. “The secret ballot is an important part of our democracy that people value,” confirmed Democratic Congressman Allen Boyd. “We need a bill that ensures the right to privacy so employees don’t feel intimidated when they cast their vote.”
Nor is card check the only aspect of the bill lawmakers find objectionable. “The mandatory binding arbitration provision is unacceptable because it would allow the arbitrator to impose a binding contract without an employee vote,” explained Republican Congressman John Kline. The arbitration would take place if the two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement within 120 days.
Union membership drive
Faced with declining membership over the past several decades, union organizers see the passage of EFCA as a way of reversing the trend. “Card check is little more than a membership drive,” Cantor said. “It gives the unions an unfair ability to increase their ranks.”
The deepening recession is another reason why the lodging industry and other affected businesses have to make sure that EFCA does not become law, according to Kline. “This will add to unemployment and hurt job creation—the last things the economy needs right now. As employers see their labor costs go up they’ll have no choice but to decrease head count,” he said.
Colucci concurred, citing a recently released study indicating that as many as 1.5 million jobs are at risk, across all industries nationwide, if the legislation becomes law.
As the fight over EFCA has proceeded, some observers have suggested that a compromise measure might be possible. Republican Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, who also addressed the summit’s attendees, strongly disagreed. “There can be no compromise here. The right to a secret battle is inviolate,” he said.
Since the Senate is likely to take up the bill first—in contrast to 2007, when the House took the lead—Kyl cautioned that the vote is likely to be close. Senators won’t be able to seek political cover by voting yes on cloture, which shuts off what used to be called filibuster, and then voting no on the actual floor vote on the bill. “Sixty votes are needed for cloture, but only a simple majority—or 51 votes—are needed to pass the bill,” Kyl explained.
All the legislators encouraged AH&LA members to make their views on the issue known to their lawmakers not only on the Federal level, but also on both the state and local levels. As part of the summit, attendees attended a White House briefing on the first afternoon and visited their representatives on Capitol Hill on the second day.
“Legislators want to know which issues people in their district or state feel most strongly about,” said AH&LA’s president and CEO, Joseph McInerney. “And taking the time to pay them a visit is a good way to tell them.”