Analysis: Unions face fights on multiple fronts
By Mark Gruenberg 4 September 2012
|WASHINGTON - Attacks on collective bargaining rights. Pension cuts. Privatization. “Right to Work.” School vouchers. Limits on voting. In the last year and a half, unionists have been like soldiers in a foxhole, surrounded by an enemy that is constantly shelling them.
|Ever since the anti-worker Radical Right, its business backers and its ideology – crafted into legislation by the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – took control of governorships and legislatures nationwide, labor has been battling an enormous range of anti-worker schemes, state by state.
As a result, this year, there will be new and larger emphasis in labor’s political program and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Labor will “be much more efficient in its ground game” in battling to elect pro-worker candidates at all levels, including state legislatures and city councils, and to hold them accountable after the Nov. 6 vote, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
That’s because the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling two and a half years ago let corporations and unions set up SuperPACs, without disclosing contributors. And labor will use its SuperPAC in the states to communicate with non-union voters, Trumka explained.
“We’ll focus more and more on educating our members” and the rest of the voters through that ground game, given that labor will be even more vastly outspent on the airwaves, Trumka said. There’s a lot to educate them about:
• Collective bargaining. GOP Governors Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and John Kasich (Ohio) eagerly pushed through ALEC-crafted legislation to undermine workers’ right to unionize.
Wisconsin’s law, which exempted some police unions, was upheld, and so was Walker, in a labor-led recall election earlier this year. He also deprived female workers of the right to sue, under state law, for pay discrimination on the job.
But in a referendum last November, unions clobbered Ohio’s law, which covered all 300,000-400,000 state and local workers there. A chastened Kasich is rethinking his initiatives. Another Kasich proposal, voter ID, was postponed for a year.
In Michigan, lawmakers empowered the state to install financial czars to run “failing” local governments and tear up contracts, fire workers, cut wages, sell off property and do anything else deemed “necessary.” Lawmakers also passed a ban on the use of project labor agreements for state and locally funded construction.
Trumka and other union leaders maintain these anti-worker agendas have energized workers and their allies to the Right Wing threat and motivated them to continuing activism.
• “Right to Work.” Part of the national agenda for Corporate America since the 1950s, Right to Work laws allow workers covered by union contracts to avoid paying their fair share of the costs of representation, yet still enjoy the benefits of the contract. Legislators enacted Right to Work in Indiana, but it stalled in Minnesota, Missouri and New Hampshire.
Nancy Guyott, the Indiana AFL-CIO president, hopes for a rerun of history there: GOP legislators passed Right to Work in 1957, and voters threw the Republicans out in 1964. The new Democratic legislature tossed Right to Work the following year.
• Privatization. Florida Governor Rick Scott put forth plans to privatize state prisons and a heavy GOP majority in the legislature seemed to agree. But labor lobbying, led by the Teamsters – who represent most of the state’s 3,800 unionized correctional officers – led to a 21-19 state senate defeat of prison privatization.
“Despite having a massive lobbying presence and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, the deal to take over Florida’s prisons fell apart, a testament to our power to engage in and move the democratic process so politicians will listen,” state AFL-CIO President Mike Williams said. Scott may try privatization by executive order.
Several mayors, led by New York’s Michael Bloomberg, used contracting out of city services to fire union workers. The mayors said contracting out saved money, but – at least in New York – it didn’t. An AFSCME District Council 37 investigation showed Bloomberg spent so much on no-bid sole-source contracts that New York could have saved millions by keeping the work in-house.
• Public school issues. Big advocates of privatization include outgoing Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Republican Governors Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Their targets were the schools and teachers unions. Daniels enacted a statewide voucher plan to de-fund Indiana’s public schools, while turning over taxpayer cash to private, usually religious, schools.
Jindal got his legislature to enact a statewide voucher scheme, but the Louisiana Federation of Teachers sued to stop it, saying it violates the state constitution. The state’s National Education Association affiliate is considering suing, too.
In Pennsylvania, a Corbett-appointed commission advocated closing 64 Philadelphia schools, plus expanding the number of so-called “charter” schools not covered by contracts with the city school board. Forty schools would close next year.
And thousands of custodians, school bus drivers and maintenance workers would have to “agree to work for less than what private companies” now offer, or lose their jobs, news reports said. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan denounced the “restructuring,” as Corbett’s panel called it, as “a cynical, Right-Wing, market-driven” blueprint that is “totally dismantling the school system.”
• Pensions. Unions had less success in defending pension benefits. Voters in several California cities, most notably San Jose, enacted ordinances cutting public worker pensions under the guise of “fiscal responsibility” even though studies show the recession, not workers’ pay and pensions, caused cities’ red ink.
Rhode Island cut pensions of 66,000 present and future state and municipal workers. Besides benefit cuts, automatic cost-of-living increases were abolished for fie years, and workers would have to wait until age 67 to retire and claim benefits. Future pensions would be 401(k) style accounts. At one demonstration, state workers passed out cans of cat food to dramatize the choice they would have.
“Retirees like me, many of whom do not receive Social Security, will be forced into poverty because of pension cuts,” said AFSCME Council 94 President Michael Connolly.
• Limits on voting. Nationwide, the Radical Right is trying to lock in its gains by making sure its foes can’t vote the enactors out of office. It does so via so-called “Voter ID” laws designed to strip women, minorities, workers, students and the elderly of the right to vote. Millions of people – 700,000 in Pennsylvania alone – lack various state-sanctioned IDs and will be barred from voting. In Minnesota, unions are campaigning against adding a “voter suppression” provision to the state’s constitution.
Pennsylvania’s Corbett eagerly pushed the voter ID statute through his legislature and a state GOP leader bragged it would dump so many voters from the rolls that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would win.
Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used by permission.