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Senator calls Card Check

Wicker weighs in on Employee Free Choice Act

Supporters of a groundbreaking amendment that would change the national playbook on labor union elections are hoping the White House-backed bill can survive a potential Republican knockout.

The Employee Free Choice Act of 2009 (EFCA), known as “Card Check,” suffered a setback March 24 after Sen. Arlen Specter (R- Pa.) announced he was reversing his support of the bill.

Democrats claim that Card Check would bring more efficiency to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and further penalize employers for unfair labor practices during union elections. Sixty votes in the Senate are needed to prevent a Republican filibuster, and Democrats were counting on the moderate Specter’s support, as well as the likely seating of Minnesota independent Al Franken.

The most prominent measure in Card Check is the elimination of the traditional secret ballot during elections in favor of having employees publicly sign cards pledging support of unionization. Pro-business Republicans wasted no time in voicing opposition, branding Card Check a potential big win for Big Labor while Sen. Edward Kennedy (D- Mass.) promised that the bill is “a critical step toward putting our economy back on track.”

In an exclusive interview with the Mississippi Business Journal, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker said that Card Check would be a “wet blanket” for businesses in right-to-work states such as Mississippi, states with low risk of union involvement.

“It would be a nail in the coffin of the provision and would make our state a less than attractive candidate for manufacturing industries,” Wicker said. “It’s not hard to imagine what the unintended consequences would be. I’ve seen estimates of as many as 600,000 jobs being lost nationwide; clearly some of those would be in Mississippi.”

Wicker, a Republican, added that U.S. workers would be at a greater risk of intimidation and coercion by labor unions with Card Check. New rules would grant union organizers NLRB certification if they persuade 50 percent of a workforce to check “yes” to unionization.

“It is an outrageous concept to do away with this longstanding principal (of the secret ballot) in not only labor law but in American democracy,” Wicker said. “It’s one of the worse ideas I’ve seen in a long time.” Wicker said that the sanctity of the secret ballot is invaluable in something as critical as unionization. “There ought to be an opportunity for a legitimate campaign of ideas,” he says.

A recent study by the AFL-CIO said that unions are essential if the U.S. wants to prevent a nosedive in wages and benefits, especially during a global economic crisis. “(Card Check) is part of a strategy for American economic revival,” the organization said. “America needs to restore the freedom for all of its workers to bargain for a better life.”

Wicker disagrees. “I don’t think the bill has anything to do with the recession,” he said. “It was put forward as soon as the Democrats won control of the House in 2006, and only three Democrats originally voted against it.”

Wicker said that Card Check is clearly a power grab by the Democratic Party in an effort to strengthen its relationship with labor unions, which have been on the decline for years.

Contact MBJ staff writer/researcher Stephen McDill at stephen.mcdill@msbusiness.com .

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