Starbucks, CostCo, Whole Foods ‘Alternative’ to EFCA
So did you see the headline in some media outfits today? From the Washington Post Executives Detail Labor Bill compromise. It seems the folks at Starbucks (mostly non-union), Whole Food (mostly non-union) and CostCo have come up with a "third-way" on the Employee Free Choice Act.
Like other businesses, the three companies are opposed to two of the Employee Free Choice Act’s components — a provision that would allow workers to form a union if a majority sign pro-union cards, without having to hold a secret-ballot election, and one that would impose binding arbitration when employers and unions fail to reach a contract after 120 days.
But the companies’ chief executive officers say they also recognize that just opposing the legislation, commonly called "card check," is not enough because of the widespread perception in Democrat-dominated Washington that there is not a level playing field between labor and business. So the CEOs have come up with ideas they hope will form the basis of new legislation.
Their proposal would maintain management’s right to demand a secret-ballot election and would leave out binding arbitration. The proposal would keep the third main element of card check — toughening the penalties for companies that retaliate against workers before union elections or refuse to engage in collective bargaining. But it would also toughen penalties for union violations, and it would make it easier for businesses to call elections to try to decertify a union.
Now let’s not all jump up and down and shut "Huzzah" at once here. This "third way" offers a small sop to the employees by mandating that a date for an election be set with a fixed time, supposedly to limit management’s ability to intimidate workers against the union.
But it would also block the two biggest components of the EFCA, establishment of a union if more than 50% of the workers ask for it and binding arbitration.
The arguments used by these companies are disingeneous at best.
Labor unions, though, are adamant that workers be able to choose to organize via card check so they can avoid employer intimidation before elections. They say binding arbitration is needed because so many companies refuse to bargain — nearly half of new unions never even get a contract.
The three CEOs are at odds with those planks. Whole Foods Market chief executive John Mackey said that binding arbitration is "not the way we normally do things in the United States" and that allowing workers to organize without a secret ballot "violates a bedrock principle of American democracy."
And the CEOs also do not share the labor movement’s underlying belief that the decline of organized labor has contributed to income inequality and the economy’s current imbalance. "That so few companies are unionized is not for a lack of trying but because [unions] are losing elections — workers aren’t choosing to have labor representation," Mackey said. "I don’t feel things are worse off for labor today."
Of the three companies, only Costco has a substantial minority of employees that are unionized — about a fifth of its hourly employees belong to the Teamsters, with whom it has good relations. Starbucks and Whole Foods have resisted most unionizing efforts.
Gee, management thinks all things labor are just fine, just all peachy keen, huh? What a surprise.
Starbucks, CostCo, and Whole Foods present themselves as progressive. Maybe they need to go back to school and learn the definition of the term again.
Of course, the Blue Dog types love it:
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), a centrist who is ambivalent about card check, praised the companies’ proposal. "I appreciate a good-faith effort that could result in a reasonable compromise on what has become a highly polarizing matter," he said.
Update: Howie Klein hits this as well at Down With Tyranny