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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Whole Foods, Starbucks, Costco Propose Compromise Over Congressional Union Bill

Originally Posted to Triangle Business Journal

Whole Foods Market Inc., Starbucks Corp. and Costco Wholesale Corp. introduced a proposed compromise over the weekend to a bill before Congress that would make it easier to create unions.

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods was joined by Seattle-based Starbucks and Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco in the proposal, which they say is an alternative to the controversial Employee Free Choice Act.

The EFCA – pushed by labor officials and many Democrats and heavily opposed by business leaders – would allow a majority of employees at a company to form a union by signing cards. Currently, if a majority of employees sign the cards, a process known as "card check," then employees vote in a secret-ballot election on forming a union.

The proposal from the companies, calling themselves the Committee for A Level Playing Field, would reject unionization via card check. It also would strip from the EFCA a controversial provision requiring unions and employees to go to federal arbitration if they cannot reach a deal within 120 days of a union's formation.

But the compromise legislation would allow unions access to employees during nonworking hours at a neutral location – a first – and mandate a fixed time for elections so companies wouldn’t be able to delay a vote. Delays in union votes are common complaints among labor organizers.

Speaking to reporters in a conference call, attorney Lanny Davis, who is representing the companies in the proposal, said the goal is to “trigger a conversation” between the two sides in the debate.

North Carolina business leaders are among those opposed to the card check bill, which they say would put a major dent in many of the state's economic development advantages.