Major retailers propose alternatives to debated bill

WASHINGTON – Three major retailers on Saturday laid out broad details of an alternative proposal they hope will fend off a deadlock over a hotly contested bill making it easier for workers to unionize. Starbucks Corp., Whole Foods Market Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. are opposed to portions of the labor-friendly Employee Free Choice Act, which would take away the right of employers to demand secret-ballot elections by workers before unions could be formed. Under the legislation, unions could gain representation if a majority of workers sign cards authorizing it. Still, the companies say they recognize that simply opposing the bill might prove futile given a union-friendly environment in Washington in which Democrats control Congress. So the companies on Saturday announced an ad hoc committee aimed at pushing through alternatives. Their proposals will seek to maintain management’s right to demand a secret ballot election and would leave out binding arbitration. The three retailers want to toughen penalties for companies that retaliate against workers before union elections, while at the same time stiffen penalties for union violations. ‘We believe in and trust our employees, which is neither anti-union nor pro-status quo,’ said James Sinegal of Costco. He said the group’s proposals ‘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.’ It was unclear whether the broad principles of the alternative plan will gain traction on an issue where both labor and business have drawn firm lines. Business groups have mobilized like never before to lobby against the Employee Free Choice Act – also known as card check – with Congress expected to consider the measure later this summer. Word that three of the most recognizable companies in the nation were even thinking about compromise provoked a wave of outrage from the business community, which has been maintaining a position of zero compromise. ‘Small business remains steadfastly opposed to compromising on card check legislation,’ Brad Close, a vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business said Saturday.