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March 24, 2009
Starbucks, Costco, Whole Foods Offer ‘Third Way' on Union Bill

Starbucks, Costco, and Whole Foods have teamed up to push a “third way” approach to changing laws covering unions.

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The three companies formed the Committee for Level Playing Field in response to the Employee Free Choice Act, proposed legislation that would make it easier for employees to form unions by eliminating an employer's ability to force a secret ballot election.

The Employee Free Choice Act would require the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if the board finds that a majority of employees have signed authorizations designating the union as their bargaining representative. In effect, the EFCA would grant workers the right to unionize as soon as a majority of employees have signed cards indicating that they want to organize.

The Employee Free Choice Act would also allow a union or employer to refer a dispute to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) if an employer and a union are engaged in bargaining for their first contract and are unable to reach agreement within 90 days. Under the legislation, if the FMCS has been unable to bring the parties to agreement after 30 days of mediation, the dispute would be referred to arbitration and the results of the arbitration would be binding on the parties for two years.

Business groups oppose the legislation, arguing that the election process would become a public one in which workers would feel pressure from union supporters to vote in favor of unionization. Unions argue that the secret-ballot process is flawed and allows employers to influence elections.

The Committee for Level Playing Field's proposal says its proposal would guarantee the right of management to require a secret ballot and guarantee a fixed time period for the secret-ballot election. The proposal would also permit management to initiate a decertification campaign through a secret ballot election.

The proposal would allow unions (and management) to access employees during non-working hours concerning the issue of whether to form a union. The group also says that the proposal would also provide expedited enforcement for serious and pervasive violations of law by labor and management and stricter penalties for serious and pervasive violations, including the penalty of mandatory injunctions when appropriate.

Unlike the Employee Free Choice Act, the proposal wouldn't include binding arbitration.

“We believe in and trust our employees, which is neither anti-union nor pro-status quo," said James Sinegal of Costco. “We favor fairness and believe that the passage of a law based on these six principles will ensure a fair opportunity for workers to make an informed choice, with a secret ballot, whether they want a union or whether they wish to retain non-union status.”

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