CLEVELAND – To nobody’s surprise, the Republican Party platform, adopted at its convention in Cleveland, backs a national so-called “right to work” law, slams federal workers and trashes the National Labor Relations Board for using federal minimum wage and overtime pay laws to deny “flexibility” to businesses.
“We support the right of states to enact right to work laws and call for a national law to protect the economic liberty of the modern workforce,” it says. Those are code words for a national RTW law. And the GOP stops just short of demanding outlawing of federal unions.
The platform, adopted by delegates who also made business mogul Donald Trump their presidential nominee, also pledges to renegotiate trade pacts in favor of U.S. interests – while not specifying which U.S. interests – and has a strict right-to-life section with no exceptions.
Party platforms are often filed and forgotten, and this platform may be no exception. But they do lay down the principles the party expects its candidates, from the presidency on down, to adhere to. With GOP platform writers coming from the party’s business-oriented establishment wing, those principles are anti-union, anti-worker or both. Key passages include:
- A slam against regulations in general and NLRB and Labor Department regulations in particular, as bad for business: “We will revisit existing laws that delegate too much authority to regulatory agencies and review all current regulations for possible reform or repeal,” it says.
- Elimination of the minimum wage and the Jones Act – which says U.S.-flagged U.S.-crewed ships must carry goods between U.S. ports – in U.S. territories.
- After declaring the GOP would “challenge the anachronistic labor laws that limit workers’ freedom and lock them into the workplace rules of their great-grandfathers,” the platform takes aim at the NLRB, promising “to restore fairness and common sense” there.
“Instead of facilitating change, the current administration and its agents at the NLRB are determined to reverse it. They are attacking the franchise model of business development, which is essential to the creativity and flexibility of the new economy. They are wielding provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, designed for the manufacturing workplace of the 1930s, to deny flexibility to both employers and employees.
“They have outlawed union transparency rules that allowed members to discover what was being done with their dues. They have outlawed alternatives to unions even when they were favored by the workers. Their project labor agreements discriminate against the vast majority of workers by barring them from jobs on taxpayer-funded projects. Their patronizing, controlling approach leaves workers in a form of peonage to the NLRB.”
- One way to “bring labor law into the 21st century” is to have it “encourage cooperation between management and workers, not conflict,” the platform says. That cooperation should include so-called “merit pay,” though the GOP doesn’t call it that. Bosses often use “merit pay” to divide and conquer workers within already unionized workplaces.
“All workers, including union workers, must be free to accept raises and rewards without veto power from union officials,” the platform says. And “all unionized workers should be able to find out what is going on in their union trust funds and their executive compensation.”
The platform also advocates “employee empowerment and workplace flexibility.”
Republicans use “flexibility” as code for their comp-time-not-overtime legislation. Their bills coerce workers into comp time, but then leave when they can take it up to the boss.
- The platform takes special aim at federal workers, who are favorite targets of Congress’ ruling Republicans. That includes implying federal worker unions should be banned.
It charges, incorrectly, that “the federal workforce is larger and more highly paid than ever.”
Data show the federal workforce is at its lowest level since 1960 and federal pay panels routinely point out that except for the lowest-paid workers – such as janitors – federal workers’ pay trails their private-sector counterparts with the same skills and in the same jobs.
The platform also contends non-cash benefits – health care, pensions and the like – average $35,000 per federal worker per year, above their pay, and are triple the private sector figure. It calls federal pensions and vacation time “wildly out of line with…the private sector.”
The platform urges Congress “to bring federal compensation and benefits in line with those of most American employees. A Republican administration should streamline personnel procedures to expedite the firing of bad workers, tax cheats and scammers,” the GOP says.
And in their thinly veiled threat to outlaw federal unions, the Republicans noted that unionization of federal workers “first permitted by Democratic presidents in the 1960s, should be reviewed by the appropriate congressional committees examine its effects on the cost, quality and performance of the civil service.” Such “reviews” have led to proposed bans.
“Union representatives in the federal workforce should not be paid to conduct union business on the public’s time,” it adds. And while the platform lauds federal whistleblowers – most of them unionists, though it does not admit that – it declares in the next sentence that “none should be compelled to join a union or pay dues to it,” though unions protect them against bosses’ retaliation.
- The platform also specifically slams unionists’ political contributions, ignoring that they’re voluntary, and that they’re not taken from union dues. “We believe the forced funding of political candidates through union dues and other mandatory contributions violates the 1st Amendment. Just as Americans have a 1st Amendment right to devote resources to favored candidates or views, they have a 1st Amendment right not to be forced to support individuals or ideologies they oppose,” it declares.
And it even says Native American communities should be able to ban unions at tribal-run casinos. “Native communities should have the same authority as state governments in labor matters, so that union bosses and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cannot undermine the authority of tribal governments,” the platform declares.
Other specific platform points include:
- Killing federal gas-tax-provided funding for mass transit – and anything else that isn’t a highway. The platform criticizes the government for spending on-fifth of surface transportation money “on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities.” The GOP wants to “phase out the federal transit program,” including its money for bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping, historical renovations, ferries and scenic byways.
- Public schools and teachers are also a target. The platform demands abolition of tenure for teachers, and it supports “home schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools.
“We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts, vouchers, and tuition tax credits.” It calls that a civil rights issue – echoing anti-union anti-teacher-tenure lawsuits in California.
The GOP also wants to turn student loans back to banks, which amassed huge profits from them, before Congress ordered the Education Department to take over the loan program.
“The federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans. In order to bring down college costs and give students access to a multitude of financing options, private sector participation in student financing should be restored,” the platform says.
Photo: Indiana’s GOP Gov. Pence, the party’s vice presidential nominee, pushed turning his state into a Right to Work (for Less) state. | Daron Cummings/AP