Monday, June 8, 2009

Look Ma We're Famous

To keep my legion of loyal readers apprised of our growing fame, I wanted to mention that "Turn Maine Blue", the place to be for Maine Progressives, gave EFCA Blog a shout out last week, and now features us on their Blog Roll.

EFCA Blog: Taking over the nation one small Northeastern state at a time.

Also...god help us all, EFCA Blog also has a Facebook presence. Feel free to join in the fun.

It's a Provision of the Bill, Not the Damned Bill

A request to people writing about the issue: Stop making EFCA and 'card check' sound interchangeable. They're not.

For example, when Kevin Mooney, a columnist for the Washington Examiner writes: "Rep. Lois Capps, D-CA, a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act (aka Card Check)".

If Kevin would've taken the time to read the bill (which comes in at a whopping 1300 words), he'd know 'card check' is one of several provisions of the bill. It's arguably not even the most important.

Now, in the interest of trying to avoid sounding overly shrill, I'd like to point out that there's nothing wrong with Kevin (or anyone else) not knowing the difference. It's fairly nuanced, and the 'card check' provision generates by far the most media attention. But...if you're going to write about it (or if you're going to fact check it, or if you're going to edit it), then you need to do it in a manner that avoids making people less knowledgeable about the issue than they were before.

I wouldn't get so fired up if it didn't happen all the time.

Specter Supports EFCA, After He Opposed It, Prior to Supporting It

So Specter told a pro labor crowd that "'ll be satisfied with my vote on this issue" (video here). This was probably inevitable. The really key issue here is that this race is almost certainly Specter's last. And, now that he's a Dem (that will almost certainly enjoy significant Independent and Republican support), there's simply more to be gained by supporting EFCA than opposing it. Is be burning 30 years worth of bridges with previous supporters? Yup. Does he give a damn? Nope.

You've almost got to admire his complete lack of personal conviction. You suspect it out of a lot of politicians, but Specter doesn't even try to pull the wool over your eyes. I remember on Meet the Press, after he switched parties, when David Gregory asked him why, and he explicitly said it was because it looked like he might lose the Republican primary.

I don't much care for Specter's politics, and I'm poking fun at him, but truthfully there are worse philosophies by which to govern (advocate for what your constituents want/need -- a true adherer to the delegate model of governance for you PolSci dorks out there).

This does beg the question of why in the world he explicitly stated, in the statement in which he switched parties, that he would continue to oppose EFCA. It makes him look like an unprincipled fraud, and will provide ammunition for more than a few 30 second TV spots by his Republican opponent.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Elevating The Discourse

Isn't hard when you have this on one side and this on the other.

Monday, June 1, 2009

If I'm Not Back In Ten Comments Call For Help

If there are any readers (especially labor organizers) that would like to take a stab at reader Jim's comments from this post, feel free to jump in and give it a try. Despite running a blog on the issue, he's presented me with a level of wonkishness that's left me feeling downright unknowledgable.

I should also take this opportunity to note that, starting this weekend, I'll be instituting a feature borrowed from my other blog, "Week in Review". Every Sunday I'll give a rundown of the week's happenings on the blog as well as handing out the coveted reader awards. Despite a decent emerging readership here at EFCA Blog, there haven't been many commenters. Suffice to say Jim's comment puts him out to a huge lead (bonus points are awarded for various things, including wonkishness). I encourage other EFCA Blog readers to give Jim a run for his money in the comments section of that, or any other, post.

Today's EFCA News

Does this mean Rep. Don Young (R-AK) will vote for EFCA?

National Journal fails to understand even the most basic tenets of the bill (scroll halfway down the article).

More frustration with MSM's inability to understand EFCA over at Daily Kos.

The Arkansas business community organizes their opposition.

Specter getting more EFCA pressure.

Reader Comment

A reader writes:
So here's what I think is going to happen:

A committee of conservative Democrats (Feinstein - CA, Specter - PA, Pryor - AR) is now meeting regularly to come up with a compromise that will get them 59 cloture votes. This will most likely include at least some of the following: baseball-style arbitration instead of gov't-appointed arbitrator with creative powers, mail-in ballot instead of card-check/majority signup, stiffer penalties for ULP's (unfair labor practices), and an accelerated election calendar. When Al Franken gets seated to make it 60 votes for cloture, conservative Democrats draw straws to see which 10 of them get to take the low road and vote against the bill or not vote at all.
Then Labor will decide what companies, like WalMart, are still viable targets to organize under the new law.
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and I think the detail here is going to be cloture votes. As a former foil of mine once said, "Getting in the meeting is easy. It's the meeting before the meeting, where the decisions are made, that's the tough invite." I think his words are especially instructive in this case.

From reading the news and what few whispers I get from the Hill, it's safe to say that negotiations along the lines of this reader's description are taking place. All these compromises sound like concessions labor could live with, and might be proposing. But before this group meets, there are the innumerable meetings with business lobbyists, and I still believe a lot of this will come down to which side can exert the most leverage. I've seen nothing that would lead me to believe that labor can exert more pressure than business, or that labor's willing to exert as much pressure as business.

I think there are senators, and I think Specter is one of them, that are actually looking for a compromise of sorts. In a blue state like PA, where even in Specter's heart of hearts he's got to suspect that this will be his last race, he can afford to agree to a compromise of sorts, or put differently, he will probably negotiate in good faith.

But, for every Specter there's a Blanche Lincoln, and she's not voting for cloture. She's expressed huge concerns over the bill's two primary provisions and hails from a state that Obama didn't win. I've seen nothing she's said (or even in the subtext of what she's said) that makes me think that she's voting for cloture on this bill. The same could be said of Pryor, who's been less adamant in his opposition, but no where close to an active supporter. It's critical to remember, that if you lose one of those two, 60 votes is gone as things stand now. Are there any Republicans in those meetings my commenter mentioned? Maybe Collins and Snowe. Maybe Voinovich. All three have either voted against it previously, gone on record opposing it or both. And what if you can't get either of the Arkansas duo to come around? Now you need two of those three. We haven't even discussed Nelson or Bayh yet. You'd have to give them an arm and a leg to give you a cloture vote, and that's if you somehow made it to 58-59. Now that I think about it, that might be a clever way of describing the problem. There are 10 moderate Dems that would be happy to give you the 60th vote, but none a single damned one of them will give you the 59th.

In summation, I think my reader's take is dead on, I just don't think those discussions will yield 60 cloture votes in this Congress. I think the one thing that might conceivably shift the current balance is an aggressive push by President Obama, but there's no indication he sees labor issues as a high priority, or that labor is interested in trying to make him.

EFCA Dialogue With Professor Michael Goldberg

I'm proud to introduce a new feature here at EFCA Blog. Readers might remember this op-ed in Thursday's Philadelphia Inquirer by Widener University School of Law professor Michael Goldberg, as well as my response.

I contacted Professor Goldberg and invited him to continue this fledgling dialogue on EFCA Blog, and he very graciously agreed. It's important to note how little substantive discussion is taking place on any aspect of this issue, and it's really an honor to have someone like Professor Goldberg take the metaphorical nosedive from the Philadelphia Inquirer to EFCA Blog to help change that fact.

I don't know how long this will continue, as I'm sure Professor Goldberg is a busy man, but with exactly this much ado, I present you with his response to my post:
Thanks for your reaction to my piece. I agree with much of what you write, especially that first contract arbitration is probably a greater source of employer opposition to EFCA than card check. (The portion of my op-ed dealing with arbitration, and stiffer penalties for unfair labor practices, had to be cut for space reasons.)

On the other hand, as you point out, card check is the argument against EFCA that has the most political traction. The anti-EFCA forces know that portraying EFCA as destroying the secret ballot makes EFCA sound un-American. Employer arguments about arbitration come across as more self-serving, and I think can be overcome more easily by EFCA's supporters, than employer arguments based on card check -- insincere as they may be -- which come across as defending not just the secret ballot, but mom and apple pie too.

You're right, employer forces aren't interested in compromise, and neither, probably, are politicians who are completely in their pockets. But taking away the political high ground employers have seized with their "defense" of the secret ballot also takes away some of the political cover some moderate Democratic senators, like Specter and Carper for example, are currently hiding behind to justify their opposition to the current bill.

Without that political cover, maybe enough votes can be found in the Senate to overcome an anti-EFCA filibuster.

-- Michael
And here, is my response:

I think I better understand where you're coming from now. First, a point that I didn't make clear in my initial response: The ideas you proposed about gaining a super majority for card check purposes, as well as a secret ballot fallback in cases of labor intimidation are excellent ones. As we both know, the whole labor intimidation argument overlooks the fact that employer intimidation is rampant in the current system, but nevertheless the potential for labor to do the same might exist were EFCA to be enacted, and ignoring that possibility is irresponsible. Your solution would be an equitable one.

In addressing your most recent response, I would say that while I agree almost completely with your summation of the framing of the debate, I disagree with how that framing can be changed. There's no question that business has the rhetorical upper hand as it relates to card-check. Ignoring the issue and concentrating upon Sacred American Institutions ('mom and apple pie' as you hilariously described it) is the way to go. The problem for labor is that any direct rhetorical defense of that argument is a bank shot. It starts out with some variation of "no it doesn't really, because," or "they're being disingenuous because if you think about how things are set up now," and it gets totally confusing for anyone not familiar with the minutia of the issue, which is everyone. More specifically, it's impossible to deflect the apple pie rhetoric in a 30 second TV ad.

What I think you're saying is that if labor makes a genuine effort to preserve the secret ballot under some circumstances that it will make the Sacred American Institution attacks...less...well I don't know exactly. Less what? Effective? Plausible? You say it will provide less 'political cover' for moderate Democrats, but plenty of moderate Democrats are already hiding behind what is a completely disingenuous argument. If these Democrats had legitimate ideological concerns about card check, I think your argument would be dead on, but I suspect that's not really the case.

I guess my point this: the Sacred American Institution attacks will never, ever, stop. In fact, if anything they're an excuse not to compromise if you're business (or maybe even if you're a fence-sitting Democrat). Because even if labor agreed to completely drop the card check provision (a compromise that would clearly be in biz's favor) moderate Democrats would refuse precisely because they'd lose their Sacred American Institution boilerplate. Put more succinctly, for moderate Democrats there's enormous pressure to say you want/are willing to compromise and enormous pressure not to actually compromise. Eliminating the foundation of the rhetoric means you can't hide behind it anymore. That's why (as I've written before) I think you'll see multiple compromise 'camps' emerge, each with their own singular, intractable complaint, the result being that actual compromise becomes nearly impossible.

To close I'll make one final point: I think directly combating the Sacred American Institution rhetoric is a mistake. It can't be done in 30 seconds, or probably at all. Labor's single biggest problem right now is the lack of a coordinated message. Every time I see a pro-EFCA TV spot with a smiling worker I imagine labor throwing money into a trashcan and lighting it on fire.

Every single advertising dollar labor spends should be tying EFCA opponents to the most unpopular people/images in the US. Find the worst thing Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, and random banking CEO 'X' have ever said about EFCA, set it to some dark color backgrounds with scary music, and close with "Why do they hate workers so much? Support American workers. Support the Employee Free Choice Act." Then, I'd go around to every fence-sitting senator, laying three things out on the table: 1) a version of the same ad editing out Dick Cheney and editing in that senator (replacing the word "they" with that senator's name of course) 2) a different ad with smiling workers talking about that Senator's support for workers in that state and 3) The receipt of a $5 million TV ad buy. Then simply ask that Senator, "so how do you feel about EFCA?"