Fresno chamber joins lobbying effort against 'card check' bill

WASHINGTON -- Fresno business leaders are leaning on California lawmakers in hopes of stopping organized labor's bid to change how unions are formed.

It's the biggest labor-vs.-business fight of the 111th Congress, and it's putting the state's legislators on the spot.

In a show of force this week, representatives from the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and 16 other California chambers are lobbying against the so-called "card check" proposal. The labor-backed plan would enable more workers to form local unions simply through signing authorization forms rather than voting with secret ballots.

"There's very real concern about what this will do to small business," said Debbie Hunsaker, chair of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce. "There are real, live people who will suffer as a result."

Hunsaker and the rest of the 10-person Fresno delegation joined about 140 other California business leaders in the grassroots lobbying effort, which lasts through Thursday. Along with their counterparts from Bakersfield, Riverside, and other cities, the Fresno representatives are making their case in person though they have already done so by phone and letter.

"We're hoping that through one-on-one meetings, we can convince our legislators to oppose this," Hunsaker said.

But labor leaders call the Employee Free Choice Act their top priority, and they have their own supporters well-placed throughout the Democratic-controlled Congress. Two hundred and twenty-five House members have co-sponsored the bill, with Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced and Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, all signing on the first day the bill was introduced this year.

The three Valley Democrats voted for an earlier version of the bill when it passed the House in March 2007, but it then died in the Senate.

"In our own state of California, people have been waiting seven, eight, nine years for a union they won in an election," the bill's chief author, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, said during the 2007 debate. "Apparently, the secret ballot isn't enough to win your full share of democracy."

The bill requires the National Labor Relations Board to certify new local unions if a majority of workers have signed an authorization. The bill also directs the labor board to put a priority on investigating complaints about employer intimidation during the period when workers are trying to form a union.

Union leaders hope the change will improve their success rate. Last year, the National Labor Relations Board conducted 1,579 elections and union organizers lost 33 percent of them, according to statistics compiled by BNA's Daily Labor Report.

Opposition is nearly unanimous among House Republicans, including Reps. George Radanovich of Mariposa and Devin Nunes of Visalia.

Although Democrats have the power to ram the bill through the House, even some of the bill's co-sponsors among the party's pro-business centrists quietly voice some concern. In the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to clear a potential filibuster, the real make-or-break negotiations are taking place.

"The focus is on the Senate," noted Kerri Ginis, manager of government affairs for the Fresno chamber.

In particular, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been working on a card-check compromise. Two years ago, Feinstein signed on to the labor-backed bill. This year, she has not. So far, her compromise efforts have not soothed business concerns.

"In our view, it's not a good bill, either," Hunsaker said.