In this paper I explore the state of the current relationship between the Republican Party and the Labor movement in the United States. In part one I briefly trace the history of the labor movement in the United States and the passage of the National Labor Relations Act and the emergence of the National Labor Relations Board. . In the paper's second section, I discuss the GOP's strategy at the state level-with special attention paid to Wisconsin and Ohio. In part three, I discuss the GOP's strategy at the national level with respect to their attacks on the National Labor Relations Board, focusing specifically on the House's refusal to appoint and approve anymore Board Members and their recent passage of the Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act. Finally, I explore both the future prospects of union busting strategies and its implications for the Republican Party during an upcoming presidential election year.
A union is a group of workers who have organized themselves so that they can negotiate with Employers in a united manner (Dubofsky, 1991). Unions emerged in America when the country began to move from agriculture-where most Americans were self-employed- to an industrial economy where many people began to work for wages in order to make a living. The modern labor movement is usually said to have begun during Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to end the Great Depression through the use of the New Deal proposals (Dubofsky, 2011).
Until the 1800s it was rare to find a union in the U.S. The first union in the U.S. was the Carpentar's Union of Philadelphia founded in 1724 (Zieger, 2002). It wasn't until the 1930s and 1940s that significant numbers of the workforce were members of unions. In the years since the 1960s, membership in unions has decreased- nowadays only 7% of the workforce consists of union members (Devaney, 2011).
Unions use their ability to strike as leverage to reach agreement employers about wages which are fair, work conditions that are not toxic and benefits (Levi, 2003). And they are protected by the National Labor Relations Board, The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), created through the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), is the regulatory agency which governs, in part, labor violations in America. Unions go the NLRB for support against employers who are violating the fair labor practice provisions of the NLRA. The NLRA gives advice on union elections and sues companies who violate labor laws (Zieger, 2002).
Unions: Labor Movement in Wisconsin & Ohio
In the earlier part of November we saw that the Republican Party may have underestimated the American public's commitment and support of its labor unions. In Ohio, a state very supportive of Republicans during the 2010 mid-term elections, the public found itself striking down a law which attempted to limit and decrease the ability of union members to use the collective bargaining tactics created by the National Labor Relations Act. (Tavernise, 2011) There was little ambiguity in the sentiments of the Ohio citizenry. John R. Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, actively advocated the curtailing of unions as a budget reducing measure in the spring of 2011. (Tavernise, 2011).
It was clear though that the public was going to respond to the passage of the law, which had it been allowed to stand would have eliminated the ability for unions in Ohio to bargain collectively or to strike, and would have severely weakened their influence in state elections. According to Tavernise (2011), during the first week of November, the state of Ohio moved to repeal the union busting legislation- the measure passed by "62% to 38%." The overwhelming majority of the state elected to preserve union collective bargaining rights. Interestingly enough, members of law enforcement agencies who, often the bedrock of the Republican Party in the Midwest states, voted overwhelmingly to repeal the union busting legislation. (Tavernise, 2011).
The anti-union legislation in Wisconsin came in the proposed budge of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (Moberg, 2011). The budget would have eliminated collective bargaining rights and limited even the formation of new unions. Additionally, it would have limited the ability for existing unions to renegotiate wage increases. Support for the protesters in Wisconsin against Walker's budget and in support of the unions, came from teacher's unions to law enforcement officials and everyone in between (Moberg, 2011). In the wake of the budget's passage, Wisconsin's citizens have mobilized.
In Wisconsin, the public has gone even further than the citizens of Ohio. In the wake of anti-union legislation, Wisconsin initiated recall elections in addition to the attempts to repeal the anti-union legislation (Buhle, 2011). Between the Wisconsin state Democratic Party's leadership and the volunteers roused by support for the unions the recall petition drives kicked into high gear. To date, petitions to recall 6 republican senators and three democrats have been filed (Moberg, 2011). There are numerous elections set for July 12, 2012, including the recall election for Governor Scott Walker.
GOP: National Labor Relations Board, Union Voting Laws & Boeing Corporation
In recent months the house has passed two bills intended to directly curtail and restrict the reach of the National Labor Relations Board. In fac, t republican leaders have begun to call the NLRB, "a rogue agency.' The two measures passed in the house, known as the Protect Jobs From Government Interference Act of 2011 and the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, will not survive the democratic controlled senate (Devaney, 2011). They remain important; however, because they will serve as a continued warning to the Obama administration of the GOP's commitment to disrupt the work of the NLRB if it should become too pro-union in its rulings. The republican members of the house have vowed repeatedly to stall the appointment of any new members to the NLRB (Harold, 2011).
The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act of 2011 was passed in direct response to a case that the NLRB's general counsel decided to file against Boeing Corporation. Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the NLRB can move or shut down companies who attempt to relocate their plants in an attempt to avoid unionized workers. As such, when negotiations between the machinist union of Boeing Corporation located in Washington State and Boeing Corporation broke down, Boeing attempted to build and construct new plants in South Carolina-where workers are not unionized. The suit by the NLRB would have required Boeing Corporation to continue negotiations with the Machinist Union rather than simply side-step and move operations to a different state (Devaney, 2011). After the NLRB decided to move ahead and sue Boeing for labor violations, Boeing and the Machinist Union came to an understanding for a 4-year collective bargaining agreement (Devaney, 2011) The NLRB may continue the suit but is unlikely that if the union asks it to withdraw that it would continue to move forward.
On the 5 of September, earlier this fall, the capital briefs included a note that the house members of the GOP were urging the republican member of the NLRB to resign. (Capital Briefs, 2011). Last year the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the NLRB needed at least three members if it were to continue to issue decisions about labor violations (Devaney, 2011). Currently, the board consists of three members with two democratic members and one republican member. Already, the republican member of the NLRB has used the threat of resignation to roll-back some of the language proposed by the NLRB this summer. The proposed ruling by the NLRB was intended to protect unions by limiting the ability of labor employers to interfere with union votes by litigating endlessly (Devaney, 2011). In response to the NLRB's ruling to guarantee that union votes proceed before litigation begins in the courts, the House of Representatives passed The Workforce Democracy Act of 2011. In this bill, the House attempted to circumvent the NLRB's decision by stating that legal challenges to union elections can proceed before the unions can vote. The proposal of the bill itself was used mainly to scold the NLRB- it has little chance of passing in the senate and becoming law. It did, however, serve to weaken the language used by the NLRB in the final ruling (Devaney, 2011) Note that even though the democratic members scaled back the language of the ruling prompting elections to be held within 35 days, rather than immediately, the republican member of the NLRB still rejected the modified proposal. He did agree to remain on the board (Devaney, 2011).
At the national level, the GOP is employing three strategies to restrict, roll-back and shrink the ability of unions to leverage their collective bargaining rights with employers. First, the republican members of the house have refused to appoint or to even consider the appointment of any members to the NLRB board (Devaney, 2011). The term of the democratic member of the NLRB, Craig Becker, will expire at the end of this year.…