Card Check checkmated in midterms?

Conservatives have warned that Democrats may use the lame-duck session that starts later this month to push through some remaining portions of the hard-left agenda that cost them their majority in the House, including the Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act, better known as Card Check.  The bill would eliminate the secret ballot in union organizing elections as well as forcing employers into arbitration after 90 days of negotiations in contract talks, and Democrats have pushed for years to get this sop to their union backers across the finish line.  They certainly won’t get an opportunity in the next session of Congress to pass it again, and perhaps ever.

But some of those members, especially in the Senate, have to try to win re-election in 2012, and if they paid attention to the voters, they’ll think twice about even attempting to sneak it through this year.  As the Wall Street Journal’s editors warn, four states specifically rejected the EFCA approach a week ago, and those votes weren’t even close:

As the lame duck session of the Pelosi Congress nears, one fear is that Democrats will try to force through some last-minute liberal legislation, in particular “card check” to kill the secret ballot in union elections. Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin has promised to seek such a vote, so in the interests of self-preservation the 23 Democrats up for re-election in 2012 might want to look at what happened to the proposal last Tuesday.

Four states—Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah—voted on “save our secret ballot” measures that would require secret elections and effectively outlaw card check as a means to certify a union. In Arizona and Utah the measures passed with 60% of the vote. In South Dakota the margin of victory was 79% and in South Carolina it was 86%.

Yes, these are right-leaning states, but these aren’t merely symbolic victories. Unions have pressed to get card check laws passed in nearly half the states as a way to stop declining union membership, which is now down to 7% or so of all private workers. The state laws are also important because President Obama’s appointees may try to bypass Congress and enact card check through rule-making by the National Labor Relations Board. Mr. Obama’s recess appointment of Craig Becker earlier this year gave pro-card check forces a majority on the NLRB.

It’s true that the four states are conservative in nature, but it’s not as if South Carolina’s electorate is 86% Republican, either.  This is the same state that sends Jim Clyburn to Congress every two years, after all.  Arizona’s House Democrats mostly survived this midterm election, much to the disappointment of immigration-enforcement activists.  If Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords can retain their seats while a Card Check initiative loses by 60%, it demonstrates the deep and bipartisan resistance to eliminating the one check on intimidation tactics on either side of labor negotiations.

There was really no great danger of an off-the-rails lame-duck session; Republicans have enough votes to block any shenanigans in the Senate.  Democrats will be too busy working on passing a massive budget in the next few weeks in order to keep it from falling to the GOP to pass their own ideas about spending and priorities for FY2011 in January, and also resolving the tax-hike issue for some damage control after the election.  However, the WSJ points out the real problem that House Republicans will have to address, which is the potential for the NLRB to run amuck.  The effort to rein in regulatory innovation has mainly focused on the EPA and its endangerment finding on CO2, but controlling the NLRB will be almost as important.

In other words, Card Check has been checked.  It hasn’t been checkmated.  Republicans will have to remain vigilant on this issue.

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