The Wall Street Journal reports that Senators are busy working on a compromise version of EFCA that would drop the bill’s card-check provision in favor of an expedited secret ballot election process.  The report indicates:

Compromise talks are being led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate. Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for Mr. Harkin, declined to comment on details of the compromise being discussed. But she said the senator "remains confident that we can address these issues without compromising the core provisions of the bill."

Among the changes being discussed are dropping the card-signing provision and setting a 21-day deadline for an election to be held — about the half the median of 40 days that union elections currently take, according to people familiar with the talks. An aide for Mr. Specter said the senator is "generally supportive" of the idea that an election must be held within 21 days if the employer wants a secret ballot.

This is consistent with reports from late March which had Sen. Harkin approaching moderate Republicans to attempt to reach consensus on an approach to labor law reform.  A shortened election period is an alternative element about which we speculated in our February 2009 white paper, "The Employee Free Choice Act in the 111th Congress".

According to this new WSJ report, however, mandatory interest arbitration may still be on the table in some form:

Another compromise relates to contract negotiations. The bill currently calls for arbitrators to set contracts if an employer and a new union fail to agree within 120 days. Under a compromise, mediators — rather than arbitrators — would play a bigger role in helping the sides negotiate a contract. Arbitrators could still be used to rule on certain contract provisions after both sides failed to agree.

Unions of course will remain insistent that mandatory arbitration remain in the final bill, as it provides them a safety net for failure to obtain a contract otherwise.  While much of the attention devoted so far to EFCA has been critical of the bill’s card-check provisions, commentators are starting to point out the flaws of the arbitration provision as well.  But beyond the practical objections to government arbitrators setting wages, benefits and terms of employment for private employers, the mandatory interest arbitration provision is entirely antithetical to the very essence of American labor law. 

The collective bargaining process was always intended as a balancing between the parties in a free economic market.  At all times during the process, the employees and/or their union representative retain the right to engage in economic pressure – to withhold their labor by means of a strike – in an effort to persuade the employer to modify its positions. But voluntary agreement has always been the most fundamental component of collective bargaining. Indeed, Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor and a father of the American labor movement, said: “The whole gospel of the labor movement is summed up in one phrase… freedom of contract — organized labor not only accepts, but, insists upon, equality of rights and of freedom.”  EFCA’s interest arbitration provisions are a radical and inappropriate departure from those principles.

No word in the WSJ piece on whether Sen. Harkin is including EFCA’s remedial provisions and increased penalties against employers in his compromise discussions as well.

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