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Card Check, Continued

Okay... James Kirchick writes, "[Brad] does not seem to think that toadying up to organized labor is bad for the Democratic Party." But did I actually say this? No. All I said was that thanks to the newfound influence of Nevada in the primaries--plus the fact that even centrist groups like the DLC now support card check--Democratic candidates will face heavy internal pressure to back labor-friendly legislation. As for polls, I'm agnostic. Jamie cites a GOP pollster who found that 89 percent of workers like the current system. A poll commissioned by the AFL-CIO, meanwhile, found that 69 percent of workers want card check. Shocking all around. If anyone wants to sort this out, feel free.

Now is card check "a tad totalitarian"? That seems overblown. Yes, I do think worker harassment by union organizers can sometimes pose a problem. (Again, who has said otherwise?) But here's the main point: Surveys have found that such arm-twisting occurs far less frequently, and is far less severe, than intimidation by management during NLRB elections. That's why many liberals have decided that card check is the least-bad option available.

As for compromise measures, Ontario replaced card check with "expedited" secret-ballot elections back in 1995. Campaigns were limited to five days in order to prevent employer coercion. Did it work? The only study I've seen is Sara Slinn's, who found that union certification rates in Ontario dropped to U.S. levels under the new secret-ballot regime. (Provinces with card check haven't seen similar declines.) That strongly suggests--though doesn't prove--that employers eventually figure out how to rig even quick elections, and that it's very hard to design laws preventing them from putting undue pressure on workers. So I agree, it would be great to have secret-ballot elections that were totally free and fair. But it's not clear that that's possible in practice.

On the other hand, I do want to second one of Jamie's points--Congress should definitely ratchet up fines on companies that illegally fire union organizers. The practice has become much too common, and the penalties much too piddling. I'd note, though, that Democrats have proposed this many times in the past, and corporations tend to oppose it as fiercely as they do card check.

--Bradford Plumer