The Employee Free Choice Act, known better as Card Check, has become moribund in the Senate, losing support from key Democrats while facing unanimous opposition from Republicans.  The business community has presented a united front against Card Check, warning of severe economic consequences if enacted, at least until now.  Amanda Carpenter at the Washington Times reports that three national retailers have broken the front, offering a compromise on Card Check that could squeeze votes from reluctant Democrats.

This might seem like bad news for Card Check opponents, but a closer look at the compromise makes it look more like bad news for its advocates:

The three companies’ compromise plan was cobbled together, insiders say, because none of them want their companies to be broadly unionized and also oppose the union’s card check bill.

Costco is the only one of the three companies to have any major union involvement — it deals with the Teamsters for its transportation needs.

At the same time, the three companies fear that the Democratic-controlled Congress is well on its way to giving the unions what they want and hope to derail the card check bill.

Their compromise would reject the card check method of voting and keep secret-ballot voting as it is now practiced in most instances. The compromise would also eliminate the union-backed provision that would force the settlement of certification disputes through mandatory arbitration.

To assuage the unions, the plan would for the first time permit union organizers to press their cases at work sites and would also prevent long delays before a union certification vote must be held.

The compromise thus restores the secret ballot requirement for union organizing, and it eliminates the equally offensive arbitration provisions that would allow government to impose its own idea of the management-labor relationship.  What’s left?  It forces businesses to allow union-organizing elections in a shorter period of time, and to give unions access to the workplace to organize, two provisions that would easily pass on their own in this session of Congress, and probably would get several Republican votes in both chambers.

It’s not great, but it’s not horrid, either.  In truth, it gives the unions little that they don’t already have, and it strips them of two of their cherished prizes.  It also gives politicians on Capitol Hill a way to throw a bone to union rank and file without offering a complete game-changer.  If it’s incrementalism, it’s an increment of the smallest variety possible.

A few weeks ago, I predicted that Congress would reach a compromise precisely along these lines.  With this proposal floating now, it will either force the Senate (where the real battle will be fought) to accept this compromise, or it will split the pro-Card Check forces enough to stall any movement on the legislation, as the moderates now have a reason to withhold support for the much more radical version.  Businesses could live with this result, and hope that any abuses can be corrected by a more business-friendly Congress down the road.  It’s still a bad bill, but the alternative is much worse.

Update: People in the comments seem to think that “It’s still a bad bill” is somehow an endorsement of it.  I’d prefer that they pass nothing at all, and I hope that’s what happens.  I’m not cheering for its passage. I’m telling you that when you have 59 Democrats in the Senate and a Democratic President, you’re going to get pro-union legislation — and this is the least bad thing you’re going to see. If we can limit it to this, we’ll be lucky.

Update II: Jennifer Rubin calls this one exactly correct:

Even odder is the reaction of some anti-card check lobbying forces which seemed intent on ignoring what the companies are actually proposing. You’d think they’d be throwing a party when Lanny Davis is reduced to hawking a grab bag of half-measures, because not even big Democratic donor CEO’s can bring themselves to support card check.

So what does all this really mean? Most people who can count votes in Congress have figured out that EFCA is going nowhere — at least for the foreseeable future. So the scramble begins for pro-Big Labor operatives and their allies to find ways of retreating and declaring victory in the face of defeat. But make no mistake:  the central planks of EFCA — doing away with the secret ballot and mandatory arbitration – are withering on the legislative vine, no matter what the spinners say.

This is all about being able to declare victory from defeat, and it’s the best they’re going to get, if they can even get that much.

Previous posts on Card Check: