Given the outcome of November's midterm elections, the unprecedented attack on private- and public-sector workers that started after the "Tea Party election" in 2010 will likely continue in 2015. Among the legislative and regulatory developments we should expect in the next 12 months are the following:
1. More attacks on workers' rights at the state and local levels. GOP lawmakers might try to pass divisive right-to-work (RTW) legislation in Ohio, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kentucky and, especially, Wisconsin. Ever since Gov. Scott Walker (R) became the darling of the hard right by outlawing collective bargaining for public-sector workers in early 2011, the state has seen an avalanche of corporate cash pour into its elections. Right-wing activists are determined that Wisconsin will continue with an extreme anti-labor legislative agenda in 2015. In addition to state-level RTW bills, conservative lawmakers at the county level may follow the lead of Warren County, Ky., which became the nation's first county to enact a mini-RTW bill in December. Right-to-work laws weaken unions and lower wages, but despite what their supporters claim, there's no reliable evidence that they increase employment levels.
2. More attacks on workers' rights at the federal level. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, right-wing lobbyists Rick Berman and Newt Gingrich urged the new Republican Congress to enact the ludicrously mistitled "Employee Rights Act" (ERA), a bill so reactionary it could have been penned by the Koch brothers themselves. In the name of "protecting" employee rights, the ERA would make it extraordinarily difficult for workers to choose unions and would give a virtual pass to unscrupulous corporations that coerce and intimidate employees. While it won't become law while the Democrats control the White House, the ERA provides an illustration of the draconian legislation that Republicans will unleash on workers if they win control of both the presidency and the Congress in 2016.
4. More GOP obstructionism at the Department of Labor (DOL). The Obama DOL has intensified its efforts to win fair treatment for workers on several fronts. The Wage and Hour Division has tackled the nation's epidemic of wage theft by pursing cases in which workers have been cheated out of millions of dollars by some of the nation's wealthiest corporations, including Wal-Mart. In other areas, the DOL has met stiff resistance from corporate opponents of transparency. The Office of Labor-Management Standards is ready to enact a new rule expanding disclosure requirements for "union avoidance consultants." The rule, under which employers and consultants would report their relationship to the DOL when the consultants orchestrate anti-union campaigns, would ensure the law is enforced as its authors had intended. But powerful anti-union organizations are determined that the rule will never see the light of day, and are trying to block it indefinitely. The GOP Congress will undoubtedly harass the NLRB and DOL with hearings and "oversight" intended to intimidate them against protecting workers' rights.
5. More efforts to protect the rights of retail workers. On a positive note, in December, San Francisco enacted the nation's most innovative law to protect the rights of tens of thousands of low-wage workers in department stores, banks, food services and other retail establishments. Under the legislation, employees of McDonald’s, Target, Starbucks, Bank of America and others will gain greater predictability and more advance notice in their scheduling, and others receive financial compensation if companies change their schedules at short notice. Chambers of Commerce across the country are concerned that the San Francisco legislation will be replicated elsewhere, and they might be right. 2015 will likely be another difficult year. It is increasingly difficult to find Republican lawmakers who will fight for the interests of American workers over the interests of billion-dollar corporations that pay poverty wages and receive billions in public subsidies. Until that changes, the GOP will continue to legislate and lobby for the lawbreakers and job exporters and against American workers.
Logan is professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.