Labor sees real right-wing conspiracy in the states

WASHINGTON – The story in the states in the second year of the GOP/Big Business war on workers is still one of labor fighting on multiple fronts in multiple states – and racking up some unlikely wins in unlikely places.

Unions must continue to mobilize, lobby, and reach out for allies to stop the constant stream of anti-worker legislation that keeps flowing into and out of state legislatures and governors’ offices, says the AFL-CIO’s top specialist in that field.

In a Mar. 26 speech to the Fire Fighters’ legislative conference, Naomi Walker, the federation’s director of state and local government relations, ran down a long list of anti-worker moves pending nationwide.  Many of them were created by the right-wing-funded think tank, the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council.

The Right Wing, she said, has not learned from the backlash it received in Wisconsin and especially Ohio, where its law to strip public workers of all collective bargaining rights lost in a referendum last November, 61 percent to 39 percent.

Instead, it has come back to lawmakers with so-called “right to work” statutes, attacks on traditional defined benefit pensions, attempts to kill project labor agreements, and “paycheck protection” schemes designed to evict workers from politics.  When that last idea failed in Michigan, she said the cabal went further, trying to ban deducting dues from unionized government workers’ pay there, as well as in Utah and in Virginia.

The particular top target, Walker said, is still collective bargaining rights.  “They know the public sector is the one sector of the labor movement that is growing,” she explained.  “So if they can take out the Teachers, police, and Fire Fighters, they can cripple the entire labor movement.”  Other anti-union moves Walker cited include:

Defined benefit pensions “are under attack in 15 states” with business in particular lobbying lawmakers to force their replacement for state and local government workers with 401(k)s and similar plans. Not only are those plans more financially risky for workers, but the politicians’ “Wall Street donors and corporate types can benefit from the fees” charged for administering such individualized accounts,” Walker notes.

Labor scored a big win in defeating prison privatization in Florida. The Teamsters – who represent thousands of Florida corrections officers – led the drive. Prison privatization also lost in Maine and Mississippi. Walker said “some of those pushing” privatization in Florida “were doing deals with the legislature to keep people in jail” after scheduled release dates “because otherwise, the prisons would have been unprofitable” for the private firms.  The Florida win, plus wins on other issues in Missouri, occurred “because unions built coalitions with moderate Republicans,” Walker said.

Labor lost its campaign against “right to work” in Indiana after backers “had money coming in from conservative groups” in D.C. and around the country. Labor’s “only option there is to elect more labor-friendly legislators to overturn this,” she said.

Walker predicted Ohio would be the next right to work (for less) battleground next year. GOP Gov. John Kasich, who pushed through the anti-collective bargaining law that got clobbered there, “knows it would be political suicide to bring this up in a presidential election year,” she commented. 

Fourteen states “have seen bills introduced to weaken worker protections for the building trades,” though none have been enacted yet. And Walker said 32 states “stripped money out of the public schools.” Another speaker noted schools had to fire so many workers that “public education employment is at its lowest since 1999.”

One education cutter is Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker.  He also shoved an anti-collective bargaining law through the then-totally-GOP-run legislature – and brought a June 5 recall vote down on his and state Republican lawmakers’ heads.

Voter suppression laws endanger “one-third of our (worker) electorate,” Walker warned. Pennsylvania’s GOP governor signed the latest one, on Mar. 16. The laws “will hamstring our people and make them unable to go to the polls,” she said. She hopes the Justice Department challenges more such laws, beyond those in Texas and South Carolina as racially discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act.

There have been further labor victories against the GOP and Big Business:

The Fire Fighters reported in their magazine that the South Dakota House Commerce Committee killed legislation to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers there. The vote was 13-0. (The GOP holds the state house, 50-19.) “We worked in a bipartisan manner” to explain the negative impact, said Jeff Zack, a special assistant to union president Harold Schaitberger. IAFF Local 814 President Michael Gramlick “advocated for a positive approach, positioning public employees as problem solvers and rational thinkers.” Unionists statewide also emailed lawmakers.

On Mar. 27, Cristina Tzintzun, executive director of the Workers Defense Project in Austin, Texas, told a luncheon sponsored by Labor’s Council for Latin American Advancement that “we got the majority-Republican legislature in the worst state in the country, Texas, to pass a law last year outlawing wage theft.” That crime particularly hits minority-group workers, especially Latinas, she said.

Photo: People’s World


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.