As reported earlier, three major retail outfits — Starbucks, Costco and Whole Foods — have formed a coalition, dubbed the "Committee for Level Playing Field," designed to explore an alternative path to labor law reform.  On a conference call earlier today, the group announced its "Principles of Reform," to wit:

(1) Secret Ballot. Guarantee the right of management and unions to require a secret ballot under all circumstances.

(2) Certification and Decertification Treated Equally. Permit management to initiate a decertification campaign through a secret ballot election just as employees and unions are presently able to initiate certification and decertification campaigns.

(3) Date Certain for Elections. Guarantee a fixed time period for the secret-ballot election–i.e., do not permit delays of an established day for a secret ballot to certify or decertify a union.

(4) Equal Access to Employees for Campaign Purposes. Level playing field for unions and management to access employees during non-working hours during the campaign period, e.g., permitting each to make presentations to employees at a neutral location concerning the issue of whether to form a union.

(5) Expedited Enforcement and Stricter Penalties. Expedited enforcement for serious and pervasive violations of law by labor and management and stricter penalties for serious and pervasive violations (e.g., unlawful discharges), including the penalty of mandatory injunctions when appropriate.

(6) Preserve Private Collective Bargaining. No mandatory arbitration that dictates contract terms, but stricter penalties and expedited enforcement for violations of good faith bargaining rules, including an expedited timetable to begin bargaining after union certification.

Both sides of the EFCA debate have reacted in expected fashion.  Rep. George Miller (D-CA) summarily dismissed the effort:

"This proposal is unacceptable. It was written by CEOs for CEOs. It is not a serious attempt at labor law reform because it fails to fundamentally address key problems that currently prevent workers from being able to join together and bargain for a better life…”

AFL-CIO Director of Government Affairs Bill Samuel indicated an unwillingness to take seriously any efforts by management to generate dialogue regarding labor law reform:

"[A] proposal coming from corporations, some of whom have their own history of violating workers’ rights, is simply not an alternative that lives up to giving workers back the freedom to form unions."

Similarly, on the other side of the coin, a spokesperson for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace said:

"EFCA is clearly on life support so to put out an alternative seems premature and naive." 

There should be no mistake: EFCA is simply bad law and bad policy.  Still, some in Washington are clearly beginning to seek "third ways" to build consensus — and to find compromise capable of breaking a filibuster.  It would seem prudent for employers not to dismiss this group’s statement of principles out of hand, but rather to use it to begin a more thoughful discourse on the issue of potential labor law reform.  (Our white paper, published earlier this year, identified many elements likely to be raised in connection with alternatives to EFCA — some of which indeed appear in the "Committee’s" statement.) 

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