Card Check: Sometimes the ‘Myths’ Are True

The Washington Post runs a Sunday feature in it Outlook section, “Five Myths,” a generally interesting rebuttal of the conventional wisdom on hot policy and political issues. As a journalistic exercise, it’s problematic: The conceit requires a supposedly disinterested reporter to write an opinion column that communicates to the readers that sources are feeding them a line of garbage, courtesy of the same supposedly disinterested reporter.

Also, by requiring the analysis to be iconoclastic, the reporter is obliged to come up with five myths, even if the myth being debunked happens to be true. “Darn. I only have four ‘myths.’ Well, if I twist this around a little …”

This Sunday, it was Alec MacGillis’ turn in the box, “Five myths about the labor union movement,” including No. 4, “The Employee Free Choice Act would radically reshape the job market.”

Not really. While the proposal would bring the biggest change in generations, it would leave some union challenges unaddressed. The bill as written would let workers form a union if a majority of them sign cards in favor of one, without having to hold a secret-ballot election at the workplace. Unions argue that such elections are unfairly influenced by employers. But even before Democrats lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority, they had all but jettisoned that part of the bill — dubbed “card check” by opponents — because it lacked support among conservative Democrats. Instead, the measure would now ease the process by shortening the window before elections, giving employers less time to sway workers, and by increasing the penalties for employer violations, both relatively incremental changes.

MacGillis’ argument boils down to “not really.” Well, that’s one opinion. Organized labor has made the Employee Free Choice Act its top priority because forced unionization is the only thing that can save the labor movement from further private-sector decline. Harold Meyerson, the Post’s most left-leaning opinion columnist, wrote last week, “For the unions, the Senate’s inability to pass EFCA is devastating and galling,” arguing that the bill’s failure would allow continued “deunionization” of the private sector. “Devasting” suggests a radical reshaping, doesn’t it? Furthermore:

Robert Bruno, a labor relations professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, doubts reforms short of card check can work. It is unrealistic, he said, to create neutral, civic-style elections in workplaces dominated by employers.

Employers “would have to agree to an environment where they give up a lot of control, a lot of prerogative,” he said.

That’s from a March 29, 2009, Washington Post story, which MacGillis leads off by describing EFCA as “a landmark pro-union proposal.”

Got that? It’s landmark, but not radical. As opinions go, that’s too nuanced for us. Or maybe it’s just a case of the “myth” being true, after all.

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