Workers’ choice


The Idaho Senate delved into national labor politics this morning, passing a resolution opposing the Employee Free Choice Act. The Act, which is just short a vote or three in the U.S. Senate, would make it easier for labor unions to organize workplaces by eliminating employer-controlled elections if a majority of workers sign on to the union at the outset.

Idaho’s business lobby, including the Retailers and the Lodging and Restaurant associations supported the resolution, which was first introduced by Mountain Home Rep. Pete Nielsen in the House, but then pulled and reintroduced by Caldwell Sen. John McGee in the Senate.
While the best legislators can do is opine and perhaps jockey for future campaigns—McGee lives in the First Congressional District*—Idaho’s federal delegation is not quite decided on workers’ rights.

Sen. Jim Risch opposes what Republicans call the card check bill (after the union cards that organizers collect) but Sen. Mike Crapo is still taking a hard look at the language, though spokesman Lindsay Nothern said Crapo opposes the move away from “secret ballots” in the current version.

Rep. Mike Simpson also opposes the bill and favors the secret ballot. But First District Rep. Walt Minnick, the only Democrat in the delegation, is hoping for a compromise version of the bill before he has to vote on it in the House.

Earlier this month, Minnick told state Democrats at the Frank Church banquet that he favored a measure “to ensure that every working man and woman has the unfettered opportunity to join a labor union free of corporate coercion.”

Idaho AFL-CIO boss, Dave Whaley, and many of the union organizers at the Democratic banquet heard that as an endorsement of EFCA and Whaley told citydesk last week that Minnick had pledged his support.

But Minnick told us today that negotiations over the language of the bill in the Senate are underway and he has not decided how he’ll vote.

“I think that the bill I’m going to vote on is going to be different from the bill that was originally submitted,” Minnick said.

Minnick said he thinks workers should be able to organize without coercion and that neither labor nor management should know which way they vote.

“I would prefer a bill that does give both sides in an organizing drive an opportunity to state their case,” he said.

EFCA has been cast as a partisan measure, with a U.S. Senate cloture vote hinging on Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, who said last week he'd oppose it, denying Democrats the 60 votes they need to force a vote. Idaho's Senate also considered it through a purely partisan lens, with McGee and Majority Leader Bart Davis praising the secret ballot as a virtue of democracy.

“If Congress passes the EFCA employees will effective lose their right to private ballot elections,” McGee said. "Private ballots are a basic American right."

Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly countered that EFCA allows for a secret ballot but takes the decision to hold an election out of the hands of management.

“The Employee Free Choice Act lets workers, not companies, decide how a union is formed,” Kelly said. “Those who have jobs need to be able to advocate for themselves.”

Davis referred to an August 2008 letter from Democrat George McGovern published in the Wall Street Journal opposing EFCA and asked for an explanation. Kelly told him privately to ask McGee.

But whether or not a card check system for forming unions would help or hinder business in Detroit or New York, there is one not-so-small remaining problem: union membership is optional in Idaho's "right-to-work" climate.

What we're watching for is the Right to Free Choice Work Act of 2010. We know how we'd vote on that one.

*McGee's district has been corrected from an earlier version of the post.