On Tuesday, President Obama vetoed the GOP's latest attack on workers' rights — a seldom-used resolution of disapproval (S.J. Res. 8) that would have blocked the implementation of the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) new election rule, which is due to take effect on April 14. GOP lawmakers lack the votes to override his veto. The NLRB's election rule is designed to modernize the union certification process and eliminate the worst cases of pre-election delay. At present, consultants advise employers to use delay to undermine employee free choice. One large anti-union law firm tells its clients, "Time is on your side."
Big business has gone all-out to misrepresent the modest and commonsense election rule. According to the anti-union National Restaurant Association, under the rule, organizers will have "virtually unlimited time to sell employees on unionization." The National Lumber and Building Material Dealer Association says it will "severely hamper the rights of employers to make their views [on unions] known." The Retail Industry Leaders Association calls the rule "unprecedented," while the National Federation of Independent Business states that it would provide unions with "another big advantage" during organizing campaigns.
After an extensive visit to the U.S., a United Nations working group reported that it was "struck by the hostility, particularly with respect to labor rights, of many business representatives to the notion that business enterprises have distinct responsibilities with regard to human rights." Forget the disingenuous outrage of big business and its GOP lackeys over the NLRB election rule. This is the real scandal: millions of Americans want union representation but cannot get it because of weak legal protections and aggressive, and often illegal, corporate opposition.
This year has seen a startling upsurge in GOP attacks on workers' rights. At the federal level, Republican lawmakers have engaged in a relentless attack on the NLRB. At the state level, barely a week goes by without another GOP assault on unions in what Vice President Biden correctly called a "concentrated, well-organized, well-funded effort to undermine organized labor." At the behest of anti-union groups, Republican lawmakers have promoted right-to-work bills, which weaken unions and increase inequality. Wisconsin became the nation's 25th right-to-work state last month, not because the citizens of Wisconsin were clamoring for the anti-union legislation, but because the Koch brothers were. Republican lawmakers have promoted similar bills — all based on model legislation of the far right American Legislative Exchange Council — in New Mexico, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky and elsewhere.
Republican lawmakers have attacked longstanding prevailing wage laws, which ensure decent wages for workers on public-funded construction projects, in dozens of states. The same week that Wisconsin enacted right-to-work legislation, Nevada and West Virginia significantly weakened prevailing wage laws. Republicans in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin are trying to weaken prevailing wage or repeal it entirely. In several states, Republican lawmakers have eliminated or severely restricted collective bargaining for public-sector employees and promoted legislation to diminish the political voice of union workers.
Outside of the GOP and anti-union right, it is widely accepted that rebuilding unions would protect middle-class jobs and reverse skyrocketing levels of inequality. The International Monetary Fund, former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers and numerous economic and policy experts have said so. On union certification elections, "The Report of Inclusive Prosperity," co-chaired by Summers, states that while U.S. law guarantees workers the right to form unions and bargain collectively in theory, "In practice, the exercise of these rights can be difficult. ... The time between worker petitions for representation elections and the elections themselves can take many months. ... There are no constraints on employer-initiated captive-audience speeches and penalties for firing union supporters and other acts of coercion are minimal. There is strong empirical evidence that coercion is widespread and has increased in frequency over time." It advocates supporting union growth "so workers can capture their share of productivity increases" — the opposite of what the GOP and its anti-union paymasters are promoting.
Sixty years ago, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower stated, "Only a handful of unreconstructed reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions. Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice." The Republican Party of Gov. Scott Walker (Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report If 'bipartisanship' is now a dirty word, how about a rebranding? Trump 'absolutely' qualified to be president, GOP rep says MORE (Ky.) and Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIf 'bipartisanship' is now a dirty word, how about a rebranding? Cameras go dark during House Democrats' sit-in Rubio flies with Obama on Air Force One to Orlando MORE (Ohio) is not the party of Eisenhower, and the biggest losers in the GOP's radical shift to the right have been American workers. After the veto, McConnell, apparently seriously, vowed to "stand strong against Obama administration attempts to weaken workers' rights." It is no mystery why the GOP has attacked unions with such ferocity. Without an effective counterbalance to rapacious corporations, wages fall while inequality and the wealth of the GOP's uber-rich benefactors rises. As a columnist wrote in Forbes magazine, "the decline of unions is a middle[-]class problem."
Logan is professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.