There's nothing new about the wealthy fighting against the interests of the working class and their representatives in organized labor. Republicans have been doing so from the inception of the National Labor Relations Act and the legalization of private sector unionism. Things took a real turn for the worse starting in the 1950's and most notably shifting into high gear in 1980 with the election of Reagan. But now, with the tea party, radical conservative Republicans governing the House of Representatives and state governments around the state, they're turning a new corner in their war against the working class. In this article in the New York Times, it's clear that Republicans have launched a new, high-powered agenda to weaken public and private sector unions. After 30 years of stagnant wages and falling family incomes among the middle class, Republicans want to drive a stake to the heart of working class power and advocacy.
The author of the Times article, Steven Greenhouse, tries to make some false equivalences between Republican and Democratic Governors and their upcoming agendas, citing both Andrew Cuomo and Jerry Brown and their recent statements about public sector union pensions. And this is an issue that's been discussed at length lately here at Dkos and I predict will be one of the top issues of 2010 at the state and local level. There's no doubt that this will be a troublesome issue.
But it's a false equivalency because dealing with pension obligations is nowhere near the same thing as the full out non-economic, anti-labor plans of new Republican Governors. Leading that pack is radical conservative John Kasich of Ohio, who has mentioned a whole slate of anti-worker proposals.
Of all the new governors, John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, appears to be planning the most comprehensive assault against unions. He is proposing to take away the right of 14,000 state-financed child care and home care workers to unionize. He also wants to ban strikes by teachers, much the way some states bar strikes by the police and firefighters.
“If they want to strike, they should be fired,” Mr. Kasich said in a speech. “They’ve got good jobs, they’ve got high pay, they get good benefits, a great retirement. What are they striking for?”
Mr. Kasich also wants to eliminate a requirement that the state pay union-scale wages to construction workers on public contracts, even if the contractors are nonunion. In addition, he would like to ban the use of binding arbitration to settle disputes between the state and unions representing government employees.
Forget the fact that the right to strike is considered a fundamental human right by the International Labor Organization and the United Nations. What about the fact that with Kasich and others' proposals to gut pension obligations, "good benefits, a great retirement" won't be available to our teachers? And not only does he want to strip away the right to strike, but he also calls for eliminating binding arbitration of labor disputes. So no binding arbitration and no right to strike; how exactly is labor supposed to act collectively on behalf of its members and maintain a strong negotiating position?
They're not. That's exactly the point.
Kasich would also strip away the right to organize and collectively bargain in the home healthcare industry, an industry that is notorious for wage and hour violations and shady employment practices. This is an industry that experts expect growth in, as the rise of elderly care for baby boomers will lead to greater use of alternatives to nursing homes and hospitals, such as home health care. No wonder Kasich wants to strip away collective bargaining rights; better to grease the wheel for mega healthcare interests.
Another effort mentioned in the article is the continued attempts by business leaders to enact "right-to-work" laws, i.e. laws that allow anti-union workers to stop automatic payment of their union dues while still being represented by the union and receiving the benefits of any bargained-for arrangements.
Republican lawmakers in Indiana, Maine, Missouri and seven other states plan to introduce legislation that would bar private sector unions from forcing workers they represent to pay dues or fees, reducing the flow of funds into union treasuries...
But lawmakers who are pushing right-to-work laws argue that they help attract investment. “The folks who work day-to-day in economic development tell us that the No. 1 thing we can do to make Indiana more attractive to business is to make Indiana a right-to-work state,” said Jerry Torr, an Indiana state representative who backs such legislation.
Some union leaders say that proposals like right-to-work laws, which have little effect on state budgets, show that Republicans are using budget woes as a pretext to undercut unions.
Exactly the point. This is an effort to weaken private sector labor unions and has absolutely nothing to do with state budget deficits. It's about greasing the wheel for management and weakening labor, both in the workplace and in the political arena. Heck, you could convincingly argue that these proposals are bad for budget deficits because they weaken the earning power of workers and send a whole set of middle class workers down the income ladder, paying less in taxes and spending less on commerce in the state.
At the very least, any attempt to link pension obligations to right-to-freeride laws is offensively off the mark, considering that public sector pension benefits have nothing to do with private sector operations. And any attempt to enact right-to-freeride laws among the public sector won't solve the pension obligation and it won't even directly weaken union political activities, considering that dues money generally cannot be used for political activities (that's why unions have PAC funds and ask their members for PAC contributions).
No matter to Republicans. It's all about weakening labor and giving more power to their corporate donors.
And what's the most offense about these efforts is that Republicans attempt to claim that labor unions are too powerful. It's the same false equivocation that conservatives used to justify Citizen's Union.
Many of the state officials pushing for union-related changes say they want to restore some balance, arguing that unions have become too powerful, skewing political campaigns with their large war chests and throwing state budgets off kilter with their expensive pension plans.
Organized labor represents 7% of the private workforce and about 15% of the total workforce when you add in public workers. Labor spends a fraction of what conservatives spent during the elections, and are forced to disclose everything because of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRA, aka the Landrum-Griffin Act). And while union members make more than non-union employees at almost all levels of work, the wages of all American workers have remained stagnant as productivity has continued to rise since the 1970's. And you mean to tell me that organized labor is too powerful?
“We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots,” Mr. Walker, a Republican [Governor of Wisconsin], said in a speech. “The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers.”
Unions are the haves and taxpayers are the have-nots? What about the top income earners? Is Governor Walker really trying to claim that unions are more powerful than families that earn more than 1 million dollars a year? Is Governor Walker really trying to claim that unions are more powerful than Wal-Mart? Considering we have a Republican Party who has fought to weaken the former and strengthen the latter for the past 50 years, that's an incredible claim.
Here's what it comes down to; the continued assault on top tax rates, the rise of military spending, and the shirking of tax obligations through tax loopholes have left a gaping hole in budgets at the local, state, and national level. But because of massive corporate money and lobbying, leaders around the country have run away from increasing taxes on the wealthy. That means that they'll be looking for a weaker target. And for Republicans, they get a two-for-one by attacking the best chance for justice in the workplace as well as cutting down one of the more organized progressive elements in the country.
This is a war on organized labor. As Tom Geoghegan might ask, what side are you on?