President Obama Remarks on Need for Compromise on EFCA

Earlier today, USA Today reported that President Obama spoke at a New Mexico town hall meeting about the Employee Free Choice Act. USA Today‘s coverage suggested that the President expressed reservations regarding the card-check provisions. Now that others are reporting his comments more fully, it seems that the President, in fact, reiterated his support for the main idea behind EFCA — facilitating union organizing — but also acknowledged the practical reality that the bill probably cannot be passed in its current form. He also presented, without endorsing, the "other side of the argument" on behalf of the opposition. The official transcript of his remarks, via KOAT:

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, let me talk about the Employee Free Choice Act. One of the things that I believe in — and if you look at our history, I think it bears this out — even if you’re not a member of a union, you owe something to unions, because — (applause) — because a lot of the things that you take for granted as an employee of a company — the idea of overtime and minimum wage and benefits — a whole host of things that you, even if you’re not a member of a union, now take for granted, that happened because unions fought and helped to make employers more accountable. (Applause.)

The problem that we’ve seen is that union membership has declined significantly over the last 30 years. And so the question is, why is that? Now, part of it, the economy has changed and the culture has changed, and there hasn’t been a very friendly politics in Washington when it comes to union membership. But part of it just has to do with the fact that the scales have been tilted to make it really hard to form a union. So a lot of companies, because they want maximum flexibility, they would rather spend a lot of money on consultants and lawyers to prevent a union from forming than they would just going ahead and having the union and then trying to work with — and collectively — allow workers to collectively bargain.

So there’s a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act that would try to even out the playing field. And what it would essentially say is, is that if a majority of workers at a company want a union then they can get a union without delay — and some of the monkey business that’s done right now to prevent them from having a union.

Now, I want to give the other side of the argument. Businesses object to some of the provisions in the Employee Free Choice Act, because one of the things that’s in there is something called card check, where rather than have a secret ballot and organize a big election, you could simply have enough employees, a majority of employees, check a card and that would then form the union. And the employers argue we need to have a secret ballot.

I think that there may be areas of compromise to get this bill done. I’m supportive of it, but there aren’t enough votes right now in the Senate to get it passed. And what I think we have to do is to find ways in which the core idea of the Employee Free Choice Act is preserved, which is how do we make it easier for people who want to form a union to at least get a vote and have a even playing field — how do we do that, but at the same time get enough votes to pass the bill. That’s what we’re working on right now. I think it’s going to have a chance of passage, but there’s still more work to be done. (Applause.)

This reflects a somewhat pragmatic approach. Special interests have wasted no time in excerpting and splicing the President’s words to ignore his reference to "compromise" efforts, and to exaggerate his support for the current bill. See this SEIU mash-up already up on YouTube and compare it to the official transcript above: