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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

The GOP’s Assault on Labor Rights: What is Happening in the States?

by John Logan, San Francisco State University

The past 15 months have seen a remarkable assault by the GOP on federal labor rights.

Republicans have introduced numerous bills designed to undermine the National Labor Relations Act, all with wonderfully deceptive names suggesting they would strengthen the rights of ordinary workers: Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act, Employee Rights Act, Jobs Protection Act, Employee Workplace Freedom Act, Secret Ballot Protection Act, National Right to Work Act, Truth in Employment Act, National Labor Relations Reorganization Act, and others.

Republicans on the federal level have also attempted to defund and abolish the National Labor Relations Board, subjected its Democratic members to repeated subpoenas and requests for information, protested President Obama’s recess appointments to the board, joined lawsuits by corporate and anti-union organizations and threatened Congressional Review Acts – which could happen within weeks – to block the implementation of new board rules streamlining union certification elections and requiring notice posting on federal labor rights.

Rarely, if ever, has the board, and the rights it enforces, been subjected to such relentless attacks. And the attacks continue. While impressive, this assault on federal labor rights pales in comparison to what has been happening – occasionally in full view, but mostly with little notice – at the state level. Almost everyone knows about the 2011 legislation stripping public sector workers of collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Ohio, and Indiana’s 2012 “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation, which outlaws union security agreements.

However, the sheer number of anti-union bills supported by GOP-controlled legislatures demonstrates the breadth and depth of the party’s anti-unionism. So what is happening in the states?

In addition to Indiana, at least 18 other states have considered RTW measures. South Carolina and Tennessee passed bills strengthening RTW legislation that has been on the books for six decades, while another RTW state, Virginia, attempted to write RTW into its constitution. And last week, the New Hampshire House passed a RTW bill identical to one vetoed last year by the state’s Democratic governor.  Other states that may act on RTW this year -- sometimes over the wishes of the GOP establishment -- through legislation or ballot initiatives include Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.

In addition to high-profile bills in Wisconsin and Ohio, at least 13 other states have considered legislation that would eliminate or restrict public sector collective bargaining. New Jersey eliminated public sector bargaining over health benefits, Oklahoma outlawed collective bargaining for municipal employees, and Tennessee replaced bargaining for public school teachers with “collaborative conferencing.” And at least 14 states have considered legislation that would ban public employers from deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks, thereby making it difficult for unions to finance their basic activities. Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a measure prohibiting public schools from deducting union dues from the paychecks of teachers and other employees.

Many Republican legislatures have promoted bills that, while not directly attacking labor rights, are clearly intended to weaken unions, including unions in the building trades and public schools. 14 states have introduced legislation restricting Project Labor Agreements, and 11 have bills attacking prevailing wage laws, both of which protect building trades standards.

At least 28 states have considered charter school and voucher bills that would weaken public school unions, and others have bills privatizing most schools services, along with bills privatizing transportation, water supply, port authorities, airport security, liquor distribution, prisons and prison medical services, Medicaid delivery, state park vendors, kindergarten development and evaluation, and every municipal service imaginable.

At least 10 states have introduced so-called “paycheck protection” measures, which are designed to place strict limits on the use of union dues money for political purposes, while placing few, if any, restrictions on corporate political spending. Alabama, Arizona and North Carolina passed paycheck measures in 2011 – though all three bills have been challenged in the courts – while California and New Jersey have upcoming paycheck ballot initiatives.

Deception dominates in the messaging on state bills. California’s paycheck ballot initiative is ludicrously misnamed “Stop Special Interest Money Now." Backers of the bill, the ultra-conservative Lincoln Club of Orange County, co-produced “Hillary: The Movie,” which led to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The Lincoln Club welcomed Citizens United as a “victory for free speech,” but now claims that its measure is a balanced effort to remove all special interest money from state elections, to the extent allowed by federal law. In reality, it would undermine the ability of unions to engage in core political activities but have almost no impact on corporate political spending.

This type of obfuscation is central to Republicans’ anti-union strategy. If the party were unable to hide behind deceptive messaging, it would be exposed as a front for the American Legislative Exchange Council and other extreme organizations.

And finally: not one new job has been created by this tsunami of anti-union legislation.

Posted on 03/22/2012Permalink

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