Romney makes organized labor a favorite whipping boy

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has incorporated vocal criticism of organized labor into his stump speeches, making it a central component of his presidential campaign.

Romney seems to have made unions — traditionally a bugaboo of many conservatives — a focal point of his jabs, hitting labor groups more often than most of his fellow contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.

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Twice this week, during campaign stops in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney expressed unprompted support for so-called right-to-work laws, which allow workers to join a workplace without being forced to either join a union or pay its membership fees.

"If I were a voter, I’d encourage state representatives, state senators and the governor to do whatever is necessary to make New Hampshire a right-to-work state to create more jobs for the people of New Hampshire," Romney said this week in the Granite State, where 10.2 percent of the state's workforce belongs to a union, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The focus on organized labor is hardly an accidental one. Right-to-work legislation has been a hot issue on the minds of voters in New Hampshire, where Democratic Gov. John Lynch vetoed a bill passed through the GOP legislature that would have made the state the first in the Northeast with such a law on the books.

Labor issues are particularly important in another primary state — South Carolina — where conservatives have vocally criticized a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that prevented Boeing from moving a facility to the state because of its lax labor laws.

Most of the candidates, not just Romney, have been visibly critical of that ruling, which South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has said is important to winning her support.

But overall, Romney has tied his criticism of unions into his larger, overarching campaign message about improving the economy and creating jobs. Right-to-work laws, he said Wednesday in Iowa (a state that has such a law on the books), are "a way of having more employment."

Republicans using rhetoric against organized labor is hardly a new concept. But Romney takes extra strides to jostle with labor.

While most of the members of the Republican field had backed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in his bid to overhaul collective bargaining laws in the state, Romney went a step further, donating $5,000 to the state GOP at the height of a battle to get that law through the state Senate.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) had sought to position himself as Walker's lead supporter during the late February battle, releasing a Web video and accompanying petition in support of Walker and state Republicans.

But on Wednesday, the day after Wisconsin Republicans survived an aggressive, union-led campaign to unseat six state senators, Romney was the only GOP presidential candidate to be heard from.

"Despite $25 million spent by Democrats & union bosses on the WI elections, the people have spoken and are standing with @GovWalker," Romney said on Twitter.

His campaign is expected to release some more substantive proposals this fall on jobs and the economy, including some details about labor.