In the past, I’ve supported a compromise on labor legislation. Though I think workers should retain the right to a secret ballot — a very good reason to oppose the “card-check” provision — I also think that there should be rigorous enforcement of labor laws. As he fights for reelection, Senator Arlen Specter has moved sharply to the left, not least on labor legislation. Despite having received the strong support of the AFL-CIO as a Republican, Specter briefly broke with the labor movement by opposing card-check, presumably in an effort to shore up support among conservative voters. Having join the Democrats, he’s now feeling different pressures. And so he’s called for a card-check compromise, one that economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth has sharply criticized in RealClearMarkets:
Instead of card check, Mr. Specter would limit the time between the announcement of a union election by the National Labor Relations Board and the workers’ vote. In addition, employers would have to allow union organizers to attend company-sponsored meetings held to tell employees why they should not join the union. The object, according to the senator, is to make it more difficult for employers to pressure workers to reject union membership.
In addition, Mr. Specter proposes to modify the mandatory arbitration provision. Rather than giving the arbitrators the power to start from a clean slate, they would use “baseball arbitration” and pick one of the last offers from one of the two parties.
Furchtgott-Roth is convinced that limiting the time between the announcement of a union election and the vote is wrong-headed.
Take the limits on timing of elections. On average, 42 days-six weeks-elapse before workers vote whether to join unions. Say the time is cut to seven days, as anticipated by Stewart Acuff, the AFL-CIO’s organizing director. This means that unions will need to lobby workers intensively for one week to make the case for union representation. As a practical matter, employees will not be permitted to hear both sides of the issue and will be rushed into decisions without receiving full information.
I tend to think that shortening the window is a good idea, insofar as it could reduce the disruption caused by organizing and counter-organizing campaigns, not to mention the potential for abuses by labor and management.
On “baseball arbitration,” however, Furchtgott-Roth is absolutely right to be concerned.
And take baseball arbitration. In Major League baseball, with neutral arbitrators required to choose an offer by either a club or a player, both sides have incentives to be reasonable. If one side makes an outrageous proposal, the arbitrators likely will choose the other side’s proposal.
But if the arbitrators are political appointees, chosen by the director of the mediation service, himself a presidential appointee, neutrality may be compromised. Unions will know that the arbitrators are more likely to take their side in a Democratic administration, and employers will know that their offer is more likely to be picked in a Republican administration. Neither case encourages true compromise.
We’ll see how this plays out.