Right way to organize

This page has twice expressed mixed feelings about the federal Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that in its current form would strengthen the power of unions to organize workers while weakening the power of management to resist.

The bill includes some sound and long-overdue proposals. For example, it would toughen sanctions against employers who improperly intimidate workers or engage in other unfair labor practices in the course of union organizing campaigns. And once employees do organize, the bill would permit an arbitrator to impose an initial contract if talks and mediation fail, thus blocking businesses from dragging their feet indefinitely.

The problem was a provision that labor leaders long viewed as the bill's core: "card check." It would have allowed unions to reject secret-ballot voting and instead sign up workers in a nonconfidential petition process. That would have eliminated much of the power employers now have over labor organizing, but the goal ought to be to empower workers to choose whether to organize, as free as possible from intimidation by either employers or unions. Rather than accomplishing that, card check would have empowered the unions, and it would have done so during the crucial period before employees had even picked them as their representatives. During their petition drives, unions would have been able to single out and pressure workers who had not signed. Fear and intimidation would remain in the workplace, with this key difference: They would be wielded by unions instead of businesses.

Now card check appears to be gone. Moderate Democrats who were skeptical about the provision, and more labor-leaning Democrats who agreed to remove it to secure the bill's passage, say they want to amend the bill to put the power to organize where it belongs -- in the hands of workers.

Business lobbyists are still targeting the bill. They want to retain the power to corral employees on company time to lecture them on the downside of organizing, and they want to retain a long period in which to do it. They want to keep organizers off company property. They want to ensure that voting takes place under management's watchful eye.

Those management powers to come between workers and their right to choose freely should at the very least be rolled back. Far from preserving the secret ballot, which business groups claim was their concern all along, such powers whittle away at the independence and fairness that confidential voting provides.

Democrats are wise to reject labor pressure to give unions broad new powers in nonunionized workplaces. Now they should complete and pass an evenhanded bill that truly gives workers the ability to select or reject a union to represent them.

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