A battle brews in Congress
Employee Free Choice Act, a bill pending in Congress, would allow labor more freedom to organize.
By Rik Kirkland , Fortune contributor

(Fortune Magazine) -- Card check. Sounds like a new party game or what happens when you've maxed out your credit. But that phrase is about to acquire a whole new meaning - as shorthand for the biggest, bitterest labor-business fight in Washington.

Right now, unions organize new workers in two main ways - either by winning an election with secret ballots or by persuading a majority of workers to sign a card saying they want to join up.

SEIU leader Andy Stern in his office in Washington, D.C.

In recent years the few unions that have succeeded in organizing, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have increasingly relied on that "card check" approach. But under current law, card check is an option only if employers voluntarily accept it. If they choose, they can insist on holding an election, a process that SEIU leader Andy Stern argues has become a "litigation nightmare" and a "one-sided, frustrating process," too often gamed by management.

Labor's solution, a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act, would take away a company's right to veto card check. Both Change to Win and the AFL-CIO have made its passage a top priority and in support have lined up 42 Democrats in the Senate and all but four Democrats in the House, as well as a smattering of Republicans.

Under President Bush such legislation - whose odds of passing go up if the Dems do well in November - would face a certain veto. But after 2008 - who knows? Either way, pro-business groups, which charge that the bill both has an Orwellian name and is un-American to boot, have vowed to fight to the death to retain the current system. For Andy Stern this is one issue where consensus is not going to be an option.


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