Starbuck’s, Whole Foods and Costco have floated a proposal to level the playing field, as they term it, in union organizing. The group rejects two prongs of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)–the card-check and binding arbitration provisions–and keeps in place the current system of secret balloting.

What they do retain from the EFCA is the provision for increased penalties on employers who obstruct the unionization process or who otherwise threaten, intimidate or outright terminate activist employees.

What they offer in place of card check and arbitration are an expedited election process and equal access for the union to employee gatherings held pre-election for informational purposes, meetings which unions claim are currently used by employers to spread disinformation and scare employees into voting no.

The proposal was instantly rejected by Congressional sponsors of the EFCA as “written by CEOs, for CEOs.” An AFL-CIO spokesperson said it was “simply not an alternative.”

The three companies found little comfort in the business world either, where a line of no compromise has been drawn in the sand.

It appears that friends and foes of the EFCA alike have adopted an all-or-nothing appoach. Time will tell if one side or the other eventually blinks–or if both do.

(For the record, Costco is the only one of the three companies to be unionized, and it is just partially unionized through a handful of locations that were organized by the Teamsters when they were Price Clubs. Costco does, however, give all its employers the same wages and benefits that it negotiates with the Teamsters every three years. Whole Foods actually once had one unionized location in Madison, Wisconsin, out of 300 or so total outlets. The company’s co-founder, John Mackey, has routinely blasted the “intellectually bankrupt left” on his blog and derided unions as “like having herpes.” In fact, Mackey discovered an online community on Yahoo devoted to Whole Foods and contributed nearly 1400 comments over seven years using the pseudonym rahodeb, a variation on the name of his wife Deborah. This activity of his came into play when Whole Foods made an offer to purchase Wild Oats, and the SEC discovered that Mackey had used the online communities for Whole Foods and Wild Oats to game the deal. Whole Foods, to its credit, does provide all employees with free health insurance and competitive wages, factors which have helped stave off unionization at all locations save that one. Starbucks has been in and out of hearings and courtrooms in the past for alleged union-busting activities, and late last year was found guilty by a National Labor Relations Board judge and ordered to reinstate three employees with back pay. There is a Starbucks Union Web site, but its account has been suspended, which hosting services will do for unpaid bills, overuse of bandwidth, violations of terms of service, and other reasons. Even if I had the time, I doubt I’d be motivated to find out why the union’s site has been suspended–unless I can discover some kind of scandal hidden therein.)