Card Check: The Conservative Alternative

Nov 10, 2009

America will emerge from this recession. Times are tough now, but the American people are resilient. We will come out on the other side.

Yet when we do, our economy is not likely to look the way it did a few short years ago. On an individual level, Americans are spending less and saving more. We’re learning lessons from our grandparents, who knew what it meant to stretch a dollar.

The job market is likely to change as well. Some 6.7 million jobs have been lost since the recession began. When those jobs return, they are not likely to come back in the same form.

The so-called economic stimulus package approved earlier this year — “so-called” because it has yet to stimulate our economy — was a flawed approach to economic recovery from the start because it applied short-term thinking to a long-term challenge.

The bill Democrats rushed through Congress was little more than a temporary spending spree when what we need is jobs. It failed to establish lasting policies to spur job creation, and instead created a structure that has proven to be prone to waste, fraud, and abuse.

Republicans developed an alternative economic recovery plan that would have provided fast-acting relief to spur job creation. Among other things, it would have provided immediate tax relief to working families and small businesses while offering critical assistance to the unemployed by extending benefits and making them tax free. It would have stabilized home values and encouraged responsible purchasing with a home-buyers credit, and it would have leveled the playing field in the tax treatment of health insurance, providing a valuable benefit to Americans who purchase insurance on their own.

The Republican alternative focused on systemic solutions that promote true economic growth. And because job creation begets more job creation, our plan would have contributed to a lasting recovery.

The Republican plan also recognizes that economic recovery is necessary but insufficient. Creating jobs is only the first step — once those jobs return, we need to modernize and strengthen the American workplace in a way that empowers workers and promotes a dynamic economy for the 21st century. As we examine Democrats’ proposed workplace policies and contrast them with the positive GOP vision for the future, a startling portrait of our nation’s economic outlook begins to emerge.

One of the most controversial issues simmering just below the surface in Congress is Democrats’ Employee Free Choice Act. Its clever title hides a decidedly anti-worker reality.

The legislation is billed by its supporters as a means to both protect workers from undue pressure in unionizing elections and ease the contract negotiation process. It does neither.

Instead of promoting free choice, the bill calls for a public sign-up process that opens workers up to intimidation, coercion, and the threat of retribution from anyone who disagrees with their decision. This is the infamous “card check” procedure: a public voting process that has been denounced by workers and opinion leaders from coast to coast.

To make matters worse, under the guise of facilitating contracts, it empowers federal bureaucrats to commandeer the negotiation process after a scant 120 days have passed, putting federal arbitrators in charge of everything from salaries and benefits to work rules and business practices. Despite rosy claims by supporters, this does not ease the negotiation process. On the contrary, it promotes bad-faith negotiating by encouraging outrageous demands in the hopes that a federal arbitrator will simply split the difference.

Republicans have a very different plan.

Our alternative — the Secret Ballot Protection Act, H.R. 1176 — permanently eliminates the uncertainty surrounding the union election process. It assures workers that no one — not a union organizer, not management – will know how they voted. Simply put, it guarantees workers will be able to vote with the privacy and protection of a secret ballot, empowering them to cast their ballot freely.

Another workforce policy being contemplated by congressional Democrats is a move toward federalized leave policies. In other words, they want the federal government to dictate requirements for paid time off at businesses large and small.

What Democrats fail to recognize is that no two businesses are alike, and individual workers’ needs can vary widely. The notion of a one-size-fits-all federal leave policy could have perverse outcomes on both ends — costly new requirements could force small businesses to downsize or even close their doors, and baseline leave mandates could limit more generous policies by replacing flexible, individualized benefits with a single, government dictated policy.

Republicans believe there is a better way.

Rather than shackling our workplaces with layer upon layer of new federal mandates, the Republican alternative plan would eliminate existing barriers that prevent employers and workers from reaching flexible arrangements that benefit both sides.

A prime example is the limitation in the Fair Labor Standards Act that prohibits private sector employers from providing paid time off as compensation for overtime hours worked. This Depression-era law was written for a very different workforce at a very different time. Its restrictions simply do not make sense for today’s workforce.

We know this because public sector workers — government employees — have enjoyed this benefit for more than 15 years. Only in the private sector has the federal government maintained barriers that forbid employers and workers from pursuing more flexible working arrangements.

Our alternative — the Family-Friendly Workplace Act, H.R. 933 — would eliminate this unnecessary limitation on the private sector. It would empower workers to choose between receiving additional wages for their overtime hours or earning paid time off at the same time-and-a-half rate at which overtime is calculated today.

It is precisely the type of flexibility and worker protection at work in the Family-Friendly Workplace Act and the Secret Ballot Protection Act that will empower workers to thrive in the 21st century. Republicans are willing and eager to pursue a bold agenda that creates jobs and promotes a modern workforce that will excel in our increasingly competitive global economy.

Mr. Kline, a Republican, represents Minnesota's 2nd district. Ms. McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, represents Washington's 5th district.

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