The labor movement, as its supporters rightly say, is just the folks who brought you the weekend. Now as Americans mark this Labor Day, it seems that Mitt Romney wants to take it back.
After all, the man who said that "corporations are people, my friend" routinely decries the "crony capitalism" of "union stooges." A supporter of so-called "right-to-work" laws, Romney wants to end collective bargaining rights for public employees, including policemen and firefighters. The Republican nominee looks forward to shrinking the historically small federal workforce while slashing its pay. And while he has turned his back on a minimum wage increase he once supported, Mitt Romney has proposed dramatically shifting the federal tax burden from the leisure class to working Americans.
Earlier this month, Mitt Romney granted an exclusive interview to Bloomberg News in which he spoke of how he learned about leadership from his father. As we'll see below, the example he chose was a curious one:
"I watched him at American Motors as he interacted with not only executives, but workers there. I remember going to Milwaukee as he addressed UAW employees at the Milwaukee stadium and described to them the new profit-sharing program that he and the head of the UAW had put in place."But while Romney the Father extended his hand to the United Auto Workers, Romney the Son instead gives them the finger. As we learned in March, the man who pretends he used to worry about getting a "pink slip" still chuckles thinking about those who did when his father moved AMC jobs from Michigan to Wisconsin. It's no wonder Mitt Romney turned his back on his former home town in 2008, declaring, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Earlier this year, he explained why he opposed the Obama rescue package that saved the U.S. auto industry and with it over a million American jobs:
"I call it crony capitalism. I've taken on union bosses before. I'm happy to take them on again because I happen to believe that you can protect the interests of the American taxpayers and you can protect a great industry like automobiles without having to give in to the UAW, and I sure won't."Mitt Romney may love American cars, just not the people who make them.
Mitt Romney might also think the trees are the right in his home state of Michigan, but he's not too happy about the size of the unions there. But in his effort to crack down on what he calls "labor stooges," Mitt looked to South Carolina for inspiration.
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Romney has called for a federal "right-to-work" law, which would forbid requiring union membership as a condition of employment. But while Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder was opposed, Romney has a friend and ally in South Carolina GovernorNikki Haley. As the South Carolina Radio Network reported, Governor Haley didn't merely announce that her right-to-work state "does not need unions." She called for the disbanding of the National Labor Relations Board after it ruled that Boeing had illegally moved production to the Palmetto State solely in order to avoid strikes in its Washington State facilities. (Boeing and its unions have since reached an agreement.) Romney was quick to join Haley in declaring the NLRB move "un-American":
"The National Labor Relations Board, now stacked with union stooges selected by the president, says to a free enterprise like Boeing, 'you can't build a factory in South Carolina because South Carolina is a right-to-work state.'"That wasn't true. But it was enough to earn Mitt Romney the endorsement of the Tea Party darling in Columbia and help win the GOP primary there.
(Ironically, his web site declares that President Romney will "appoint to the NLRB experienced individuals with respect for the rule of law" despite the fact that in May one of its GOP members resigned after leaking confidential information to the Romney campaign and other Republicans.)
Mitt Romney's rhetoric is particularly venomous when it comes to government workers and the unions that represent them.
Romney hasn't merely targeted federal employees for a 10 percent workforce reduction despite Uncle Sam's payroll as a percentage of total U.S. population now being at its lowest level since the 1950's. (Romney continues to charge that President Obama "expanded the government," even as the public sector has contracted by almost a million jobs since the start of the Bush recession in late 2007.) He has wrongly claimed both that "average government workers are now making $30,000 a year more than the average private-sector worker" and "federal compensation exceeds private sector levels by as much as 30 to 40 percent when benefits are taken into account." (Ominously, he adds, "This must be corrected.") In particularly revealing language, Romney complained about:
"Our servants who are making a lot more money than we are."All of which explains Mitt Romney's backing for Republican efforts in states like Wisconsin and Ohio to crack down on public employee unions. After initially playing dumb, Romney came out in "110 percent" in support of Ohio Governor John Kasich on SB5, a new state law ending collective bargaining rights for government workers, including policemen and firefighters. But after Buckeye State voters overwhelming repealed Senate Bill 5, Romney still had Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as a role model:
"Governor Walker has shown that citizens and taxpayers can fight back - and prevail - against the runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses. Tonight voters said 'no' to the tired, liberal ideas of yesterday, and 'yes' to fiscal responsibility and a new direction. I look forward to working with Governor Walker to help build a better, brighter future for all Americans."Just not for Americans who happen to members of Wisconsin's various unions. By June, the ranks of AFSCME, the NEA and AFT dropped by half to two-thirds.
In his defense, Mitt Romney unlike many of his Republican colleagues supports the minimum wage. As recently as January, Mitt proclaimed, "My view has been to allow the minimum wage to rise with the CPI [Consumer Price Index] or with another index so that it adjusts automatically over time." But under fire by CNBC's Lawrence Kudlow and other conservatives on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries, Romney had a change of heart. "Right now," he said, "there's probably not a need to raise the minimum wage."
Raising taxes for working Americans, however, is another matter. Mitt Romney has simultaneously promised to (a) extend the Bush tax cuts and then slash all rates by an additional 20 percent and (b) keep Uncle Sam's total take "revenue-neutral" while (c) ensuring "that high-income people would continue to pay the same share of the tax burden that they do today." Like guaranteeing that the sun will rise in the west and set in the east, Romney's pledge is literally impossible. The result, as the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded, is that workers will pay higher taxes under President Romney. Even after assuming the closure of tax loopholes and deductions which disproportionately favor the rich, TPC forecast that President Romney would cut taxes for the richest five percent of earners while increasing the tax bill for the other 95 percent of Americans.
By now, that's the kind of outcome from Mitt Romney that working Americans should have to expect. After all, the Bain Capital business tycoon didn't merely extract millions in management fees and dividends even as his portfolio companies shed employees or even went bankrupt. Nevertheless, Romney now as then feigns concern for the carnage he left in his wake. As he put it in 2007:
"It is one thing that if I had a chance to go back I would be more sensitive to," Mr. Romney said. "It is always a balance. Great care has got to be taken not to take a dividend or a distribution from a company that puts that company at risk." He added that taking a big payment from a company that later failed "would make me sick, sick at heart."Of course, if that were true, Mitt Romney long ago would have developed a terminal case of cardiac disease. But if he wins in November, all the heartache and the pain will belong to America's workers.