EFCA ‘COMPROMISE’?…. With the upcoming fight over the Employee Free Choice Act certain to be contentious, three companies with a fairly progressive reputation — Costco, Starbucks, and Whole Foods — are looking for a “third way.”

The companies, calling themselves the “Committee for a Level Playing Field,” not surprisingly, oppose EFCA. They have, however, put together an alternative that they see as a compromise measure.

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.

To address labor’s concern that businesses intimidate workers before elections, it would set a fixed period in which an election must be held, limiting the delays that give employers time to exert pressure. The proposal does not specify what the time period should be.

The proposal would also provide unions equal access to workers before elections — for instance, by allowing organizers to address workers on a lunch break in the company cafeteria just as management can.

“We wanted to see what we can do to come up with a compromise position that is going to address the concerns of labor and also protect the sanctity of the collective bargaining process and secret ballot,” said Costco Wholesale chief executive James D. Sinegal.

Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Clinton, is reportedly helping to push this compromise, and told the Post that he’s received positive feedback from about 20 Senate offices. We don’t know which 20, but not surprisingly, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, a right-leaning Democrat who may break with his party over EFCA, said the proposal “could result in a reasonable compromise.”

It’s too soon to say whether this measure will gain traction, but the anti-union forces have already denounced the compromise measure — the Workforce Fairness Institute used phrases like “non-starter,” “even worse,” and “beyond absurd” — almost immediately. The AFL-CIO was similarly wary, though obviously for different reasons.

Stay tuned.

Update: By the way, the proposal for the “Committee for a Level Playing Field” might sound familiar to regular readers of the Monthly. A couple of issues ago, we ran a provocative piece by T.A. Frank with a related recommendation:

“The question, then, is how much of a fight the card check provision merits. And the answer is probably a little, but not a lot. What most undermines the secret-ballot process is that employers can violate the law in numerous ways without consequences. Under EFCA, however, every illegal action has the potential to be costly, so firings, spying, threats, or other forms of intimidation would be less likely. Also, there is an alternative way to preserve the secret ballot while guarding against company malfeasance: expedited elections. Under current law, months can go by between when NLRB announces the results of a card check vote and when a secret-ballot election is held. If, however, this campaign window were reduced to just a few days, employers would have less opportunity to intimidate union supporters into changing their minds. Workers I spoke to in Lancaster seemed content with this alternative. And some savvy people in the labor movement I spoke to feel the same way — provided that employers either refrain from captive-audience campaigning or else grant union members equal access to the workplace during a campaign.”

Second Update: I spoke this morning with a committee aide that Democratic leaders on the House Committee on Education and Labor will not accept this compromise, because the arbitration element of EFCA cannot be removed. Something to keep in mind.

Third Update: A spokesperson for the House Education and Labor Committee further clarifies that Chairman Miller also continues to oppose dropping the provision that gives the choice of workers to organize through majority signup.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.