A FEW MORE THOUGHTS ON EFCA

A FEW MORE THOUGHTS ON EFCA: My piece on the Employee Free Choice Act for the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, which Steve commented about here, has generated some thoughtful responses in the blogosphere. I can’t get to all of the issues raised, but there are a couple of points I did want to reemphasize or clarify.

I think Ezra Klein is wise to lament that the debate over EFCA concerns a “future legislative regime rather than the ongoing abuses of corporations under the current law.” As Ezra states, the problem is that employers are breaking the law to prevent unionization–period. That’s what we’re trying to remedy. That’s where the debate should be. It’s up to us to try to take it there.

But when Ezra objects that “unions and the corporate community are unlikely to both be wrong on the import of card check,” I’d just like to challenge that assertion a bit. Card check as a provision in EFCA is definitely a help to unions, no doubt about it, but I submit that one reason it’s been emphasized so heavily in the current debate is that unions have allowed Republicans and the corporate community to set the terms of the conversation. Republicans like to talk about the card check provision because it’s easy to paint as something bad and anti-democratic–and this provides a cover for opposing the entire piece of legislation. Supporters of EFCA get suckered into this debate because they know card check is a justifiable and misunderstood provision–so they can’t resist defending it. And that’s the trouble: it’s just impossible to explain in less than 400 words.

This brings me Jane Hamsher’s criticisms over at Firedoglake, where I’m glad to have achieved the level of “well-intentioned but ultimately flawed.” (“Flawed” is the norm for me–but “well-intentioned” is a promotion.) Hamsher seems to think I accept the GOP’s objections to card check at face value. I don’t, and I think I make that clear in my article. In fact, in her 437-word explanation of what card check is and isn’t, Hamsher makes one of my points for me: that there’s no succinct Democratic counter to the easy GOP talking point about eliminating the “secret ballot” and threatening workers’ freedoms. That might be frustrating and unfair, but that’s the reality of it.

Hamsher and I agree that other provisions in EFCA–such as arbiter-imposed contracts–probably scare corporations much more than card check. But Hamsher gets my argument wrong when she summarizes it as follows: “Just give up ‘card check’ in order to appease the bill’s opponents, and everything will be hunky dory.” Please. The point isn’t to “appease” the bill’s opponents; the point is to remove the only rhetorical fig leaf they have when opposing EFCA.

Look, I don’t presume to know the intricacies of Senate horse trading, so I’m not trying to advise Senate Democrats on their EFCA strategy. And I’m a journalist, not a movement operative, so I’m not going to insist on some absolutist version of EFCA in order to set up parameters for the Democrats’ opening negotiating position. I’m simply trying to clarify the issue as I see it. And in my eyes, certain provisions in EFCA matter a lot more than card check. If card check passes intact, great. But, given that card check probably requires many times more political capital to wedge into the bill than anything else in EFCA, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it abandoned in the final version. And I won’t be joining liberals and progressives in raising cries of betrayal or spinelessness should Democrats wind up settling for only 80 percent. The long game is what matters here.