By Tim Devaney - 07/15/15 06:00 AM EDT
Labor groups are gearing up for another fight with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) now that he has entered the presidential race.
After a failed recall bid in Wisconsin, unions are determined to make sure Walker never sets foot in the Oval Office. But organized labor’s opposition could play well for Walker in the GOP primary because it appeals to his conservative base.
“Scott Walker is a national disgrace,” Trumka said in a six-word statement rebuking the Wisconsin governor.
Walker has clashed with unions since taking over as governor of the Democratic-leaning Wisconsin, a state with strong union roots, pushing policies that have weakened public and private sector unions.
Critics paint Walker as a union buster. “You can’t actually outlaw unions, but he did everything in his power to weaken unions in Wisconsin,” one labor official told The Hill.
Walker raised the stakes for unions on Monday as he announced his bid for the presidency.
“Since I’ve been governor, we took on the unions and won,” Walker said. “If our reforms can work in a blue state like Wisconsin, they can work anywhere in America.”
Shortly after taking over as governor in 2011, Walker signed legislation that severely weakened the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees such as teachers. Under the bill, state and local government workers — excluding police officers and firefighters — can only bargain for raises up to the point of inflation. Unions argue this move holds down wages throughout the state.
This led unions to attempt to recall Walker in 2012, which he ultimately survived.
Walker again targeted unions earlier this year after he was reelected, this time going after private sector unions. He signed right-to-work legislation that gives workers the choice to not join a union even if they indirectly benefit from the union’s collective bargaining agreements.
Walker’s campaign, which did not respond to a request for comment, is touting his record of standing up to Big Labor, but unions see it as a threat to their survival.
The back-and-forth with unions will only help raise Walker’s profile among potential Republican voters, said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.
“This is political gold for Scott Walker in the Republican primary,” O’Connell said. “The fact that unions are attacking him and that he even won a recall election shows conservative voters that he’s a fighter who doesn’t back down and gets results.”
Walker’s announcement that he is running for president fired up labor activists, who are churning out stories from local union leaders in Wisconsin to “warn” the country of what’s at stake.
“A Scott Walker presidency is a scary, scary thing for America,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the AFL-CIO’s Wisconsin branch.
Sheila Cochran of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council called Walker’s labor policies “idiotic.”
“Labor has really taken a serious beating by the governor in this state,” she said. “He looks at us as if we’re trying to totally derail corporate America.”
“It concerns me that he’s hit the national stage,” Cochran added. “I pray he never becomes president. This is a man that just cannot lead this country. I would be terrified.”
Michael Bolton, the district director for the United Steelworkers in Wisconsin, said unions must “make sure that all workers in America understand Scott Walker is not a friend of the working person.”
“We’re going to talk about what he has done to the state and what we believe he plans to do to the country if he were elected,” Bolton said.
Labor activists plan to use aggressive social media tactics to spread the word about Walker’s treatment of unions in Wisconsin.
“Scott Walker has made it his mission to crush the ability of workers to come together, stick together, have each other’s backs and have a meaningful voice at work through their union,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Wisconsin branch.
“The concern is that is a blueprint for what he would do as president,” a labor official told The Hill.
Walker’s tough talk against labor generally plays well for him with many business-friendly Republican voters, but he faced backlash even from his own party earlier this year when he compared union protesters to terrorists.
The governor had been asked about how he would handle the situation with ISIS. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe,” he responded.
Labor groups have not forgotten the comment.
“That’s pretty much the most offensive thing he could say that working people who are standing up for their rights are equivalent to terrorists,” one labor official told The Hill.
“I’ve talked to a lot of first responders who were there on 9/11, and they’ve also been to union rallies — and they don’t look anything alike,” the official added.