Romney puts anti-union politics front and center

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Romney has embraced the state-level GOP crusade against public sector bargaining. When Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill outlawing public sector bargaining, Romney applauded his effort to "do what's necessary to rein in out-of-control public sector pay and benefits." He also supports Ohio’s sweeping anti-bargaining legislation, which is now on hold until a referendum in November. Yet the Wisconsin and Ohio legislation has nothing to do with financial prudence – lawmakers in other states have negotiated lower costs without eliminating basic labor rights– and everything to do with a power grab against one of the Democrats’ key constituencies.

Romney also supports anti-union legislation in the private sector. Last week the National Right to Work Committee reported that he had endorsed a national right-to-work (RTW) law, which would bar union security agreements requiring non-members to pay for representational services, and a recent Romney campaign ad focuses on RTW. During his 2008 presidential bid, Romney opposed national RTW legislation, but now he supports it and has encouraged states to pass right-to-work legislation. This has gone down well with GOP activists in New Hampshire – site of one of the first Republican primaries – where the Republican-controlled state legislature voted for RTW earlier this year, which was later vetoed by the state’s Democratic governor. Romney believes the issue fits well with his self-proclaimed “job-creator” title, but most reputable studies find no evidence that RTW either lowers unemployment or stimulates economic activity.

And then there is Romney’s favorite labor issue -- the NLRB complaint against Boeing for illegally expanding production in South Carolina rather than in Washington State in retaliation for strike action by the company’s Puget Sound workers.  South Carolina is also the site of a key Republican primary, and Romney has used the Boeing dispute to attack Obama’s“job-destroying” regulatory agenda, even when the facts of the case demonstrate it has nothing to do with job destruction and everything to do with law enforcement.

To recap: Boeing contends that it chose South Carolina for its new Dreamliner assembly line for economic reasons — which is allowed by law  —not in retaliation against unionized workers in Washington exercising a protected right, which is illegal. But in 2009 a Boeing executive stated in a televised interview that the desire to avoid further labor unrest was the principal reason for choosing the Palmetto State, and internal company documents released last month strengthen the case against Boeing. According to the “Project Gemini” presentation, South Carolina was not the prudent economic choice but it would give the company the upper hand over the union.

The Boeing complaint has been a public relations disaster for the NLRB, but the Acting General Counsel had little choice in issuing the complaint
against Boeing -- he was simply enforcing the law. Romney doesn’t see it that way. Ignoring the basic facts in the case, he has appealed to the Tea
Party wing of the GOP by supporting legislation intended to limit the board’s already weak remedial powers – Senator Lindsay Graham’s “stop the madness” amendment -- and by calling its enforcement efforts “an attack on business.” Last week Romney appointed Boeing’s lead counsel in the NLRB case as his labor advisor.

Labor politics rarely enjoy center stage in presidential campaigns. Mitt Romney wants to change that. But Romney’s anti-union beliefs bear little
relation to empirical reality, and if enacted his policies would further impoverish millions of already struggling Americans.

John Logan is Professor and Director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University. Between 2000-2008 he taught in the School
of Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science.