RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- While two leading Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate support a labor proposal that would make it easier for unions to organize, a third North Carolina candidate who won a major union endorsement is taking a more conservative stance on the issue.
Cal Cunningham said in an interview with The Associated Press this week that he would not pursue so-called "card check" legislation, which would allow workers to form a union by signing cards as an alternative to secret-ballot elections.
"I support elections," Cunningham said. "I think that what we're about to see emerge from the Senate, if anything, protects elections as the sole way for there to be unions created. That's something that I would support."
Pressed on whether he would push to allow card check, Cunningham responded: "No, no, not the card check."
When asked to clarify Thursday, Cunningham said that he supports a compromise idea that would allow workers to use card check as a way to trigger an immediate secret-ballot election -- similar to what is allowed today. He said the idea of using card check as an alternative to elections is likely not going to pass in the U.S. Senate but that he would look at the issue if it came up.
"I would be open to hearing the arguments again," Cunningham said.
Two other leading Democrats seeking the job, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and attorney Ken Lewis, both said in interviews they would support card check as an organizing tool. But neither of them got an endorsement from the Teamsters union, which has 13,000 members in the state.
Teamsters spokesman Rob Black said Cunningham "overtly" expressed support for the principle of card check during a discussion with union officials. He said the union endorsed Cunningham in part because of his position on card check and that the group remained comfortable with its endorsement even after hearing an account of Cunningham's comments to the AP. He said
"Cal Cunningham expressed support for the principle of card check as a tool in union organizing," Black said. "That tool gives workers the choice between a secret ballot election and majority sign-up."
Cunningham said in the AP interview that he would make changes to ensure that union elections are fair. He proposes stiff fines for companies that abuse labor laws and a process by which a contract can be put in place if one side in a dispute is not negotiating in good faith.
North Carolina is one of two states where public employees are barred from collective bargaining, and it has a history of businesses who have fought organizing.
A North Carolina woman's fight in the 1970s to unionize textile plants was dramatized in the movie "Norma Rae." Recently, a 16-year-long battle to unionize the world's largest hog slaughterhouse was marred by two elections in Tar Heel during which a federal judge later a federal appeals court threw out the results after finding that the company unfairly skewed the results.
"Labor should have the right to be organized," said Lewis, one of several Democrats facing off in next month's primary. "It's not so easy right now. There are whole industries around making it not easy. That's why the card-check approach has come into existence."
Added Marshall, explaining her support of card check, "North Carolina does not have a very good union history."
"Anything's better than what we have right now," she said.