|Starbucks and Whole Foods Seek Deal on Union Bill (Update1) |
By Holly Rosenkrantz
March 21 (Bloomberg) -- Starbucks Corp., Whole Foods Market Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. are discussing a potential compromise on union-backed “card-check” legislation that U.S. business groups are spending millions of dollars to defeat.
Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee-shop chain, has had “conversations with like-minded companies” and is “open to exploring alternative solutions” to the measure, said Deb Trevino, director of corporate communications for the Seattle- based company in an e-mail yesterday.
The companies didn’t provide details about an alternative to the so-called Employee Free Choice Act. That bill, backed by President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress, would make it easier for unions to organize. It would let workers form a union when a majority of company employees sign a card requesting representation, rather than permitting their employer to require a secret-ballot election run by the National Labor Relations Board.
Whole Foods of Austin, Texas, the largest natural-foods grocer in the U.S., has “been having conversations with other companies who have the same outlook that we do, and we’ve talked about finding a fair alternative,” said Libba Letton, a company spokeswoman. Costco, the biggest U.S. warehouse-club chain, is also involved in the talks, according to a person working with the company who declined to be identified discussing the private discussions. Issaquah, Washington-based Costco wouldn’t comment.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is among companies that have opposed the measure, which is organized labor’s top legislative goal this year. Several Democrats in the U.S. Senate, including Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor from Wal-Mart’s home state of Arkansas and Mark Warner of Virginia, have said they aren’t sure they would support it.
Randel Johnson, vice president of labor issues for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said it is “not surprising” that a few companies would float new ideas on the bill.
“The overwhelming majority of the business community remain opposed,” Johnson said in a phone interview yesterday.
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, a group opposing the legislation, said some of the measure’s opponents were exploring the idea of requiring that 70 percent of workers sign cards to unionize, rather than the 50 percent currently proposed in the bill.
The Washington Post reported today, without citing its sources, that the alternative legislation would tighten some organizing rules in favor of workers while keeping the secret ballot and leaving out provisions for mandatory arbitration of organizing disputes.
“These huge companies are apparently willing to sell out hundreds of thousands of small ones under the guise of making some phony and misguided compromise with Big Labor,” Mix said in a statement. “We believe we have this draconian bill defeated outright, so these actions may well lead to the bill’s passage.”
Labor unions also expressed opposition to the Starbucks-led effort to find an alternative. “What we have consistently heard from the business community is that there is no compromise,” said Stewart Acuff, an assistant to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “We expect to pass it the way it is now.”
The card-check legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the Depression-era law that helped build the modern labor union movement in the U.S.
Two Democratic lawmakers, Representative George Miller of California and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, introduced the card- check legislation on March 10. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has said his chamber may consider it before the August recess.
To contact the reporter on this story: Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: March 21, 2009 10:45 EDT