Magazine article Workforce Management

Can Dems Work with Business?

Magazine article Workforce Management

Can Dems Work with Business?

Article excerpt

A proposed "grand bargain" with the corporate community may hinge on how employers react to such workforce measures as a bill that would ease the formation of unions. By Mark Schoeff Jr.

DEMOCRATIC LEADERS on Capitol Hill and the corporate community extended hands of friendship to one another as the new Congress took office last month. But whether that relationship grows or founders may depend in large part on how workplace issues unfold over the next few months.

Rep. Harney Frank, D-Massachusetts and chairman of the House financial Services Committee, has sketched what he calls a "grand bargain" between the business community and Democrats.

In I rank's formulation. Democrats would support corporate priorities like trade liberalization and immigration reform if business would agree to facilitate unionization and expand health care, among other initiatives.

But Democrats and business are already parting company over one issue: minimum wage legislation. Many Democrats are backing the House version, which is a "clean" bill, free of amendments. Many corporate interests, meanwhile, support the Senate-approved bill that includes tax breaks for small businesses to offset the added costs of raising pay levels.

A more profound split between Democrats and business, one that may help determine the fate of Frank's bargain, is likely to occur over the mechanics of unionization.

At the heart of the conflict is a bill that would authorize a union when a majority of employees sign cards approving collective bargaining. Titled the Employee Free Choice Act, it is a top priority of organized labor, a constituency that helped put Democrats in the majority in the House and Senate.

Republicans generally oppose the so-called "card check" bill, supporting instead a measure that would ensure secret-ballot union elections. Both sides tout their legislation as the vehicle that will ensure fair tallies bereft of corporate or union coercion.

The first hearing on the card check measure was scheduled for February 8. When it was announced, Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee immediately released a statement denouncing the bill and declaring that "the honeymoon's over" with Democrats.

Fostering more union participation is one remedy Democrats advocate for addressing what they see as increasing inequality in the U.S. economy, or what they call "the middle class squeeze."

In a January speech at the National Press Club, Frank cited Will-Mart's proposal to stall its stores based on customer Flow, rather than traditional schedules, as an example of how a corporation ignores the family needs of its workers.

"Il you have to pick up your kid at school, that's tough," he said. "Unions help protect people's dignity in the workplace."

But business interests have indicated they're going to push back hard. "Unions think the newly elected Congress owes them card check legislation," says Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "They're going to have a major fight on their hands."

HEALTH COVERAGE

Another issue that business has put at the top of its agenda is health care. In this area, there may be more common ground between Democrats and corporate interests.

For most Democrats, universal coverage is a fundamental political goal. For businesses, universal coverage may lower health care costs.

One of the ways to reduce health spending for companies is to increase coverage among the 47 million Americans who lack insurance. …

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