Retailers Suggest Compromise on Labor Legislation

Three food retailers last week issued a proposal for compromise on controversial labor legislation, seeking to eliminate the card check component of the bills. Costco Wholesale Corp., Whole Foods Market and Starbucks Corp. formed the Committee for a Level Playing Field for Union Elections and outlined six principles for labor reform that they called a third way to resolve the two divergent

WASHINGTON — Three food retailers last week issued a proposal for compromise on controversial labor legislation, seeking to eliminate the “card check” component of the bills.

Costco Wholesale Corp., Whole Foods Market and Starbucks Corp. formed the “Committee for a Level Playing Field for Union Elections” and outlined six principles for labor reform that they called a “third way” to resolve the two divergent views of the Employee Free Choice Act.

“We favor fairness and believe that 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,” said James Sinegal, chief executive officer of Costco, in a prepared statement.

The coalition's proposal came as Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a key supporter of the legislation last year, signaled that he would not support the measure this year, diminishing the bill's chances to pass in the Senate. Several retail groups, including the National Grocers Association, Retail Industry Leaders Association and Food Marketing Institute, praised Specter for his decision.

Retailers and other business groups strongly oppose EFCA, which would allow employees to gain union representation at their workplace if more than half of them sign cards requesting it. It also would impose mandatory arbitration if the two sides cannot agree on a contract, among other provisions. Democrats and organized labor have supported the measure.

In its proposal, the Committee for a Level Playing Field said it opposed EFCA as currently written and suggested legislation that would:

  • Guarantee the right of management and unions to require a secret ballot under all circumstances.

  • Permit management to initiate a decertification campaign through a secret-ballot election.

  • Guarantee a fixed time period to hold the secret-ballot elections.

  • Allow unions and management equal access to employees for campaign purposes.

  • Expedite enforcement and impose stricter penalties for labor-law violations on both sides.

  • Impose stricter penalties and expedite enforcement for violations of good-faith bargaining rules, rather than force mandatory arbitration.

Eileen O'Connor, an attorney with law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Washington, which is working with the committee on the proposal, said the firm was contacted last week by other businesses and business groups interested in the compromise proposal.

Jennifer Hatcher, FMI group vice president, government relations, told SN: “There can be no discussion of any compromise in EFCA until this fundamentally flawed legislation comes off the table.”