Walker Promises Sweeping Assault on Labor Unions
Policy + Politics

Walker Promises Sweeping Assault on Labor Unions


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, desperate to revive his sinking presidential campaign, unveiled a plan Monday that would essentially wipe out eight decades of industrial labor relations law, dismantle major public employees’ unions and end a requirement that public works projects pay the prevailing wage to construction workers.

In a speech prepared for delivery later today at Eureka College in Illinois, the alma mater of President Ronald Reagan, Walker will attempt to reboot his campaign with a hard hitting and highly controversial critique of the labor movement and the need for a major overhaul that would strip public employees’ unions of most of their collective bargaining strength.

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Those efforts would include dismantling the National Labor Relations Board that was created during the New Deal in 1934, and passage of a national “right to work” law among federal workers.

He would also repeal the Davis-Bacon and Project Labor Agreements law that requires federally funded public works projects to pay construction workers the prevailing hourly wage and fringe benefits in their respective jurisdictions, as determined by the Department of Labor. The law applies to contractors and subcontractors performing on federally funded or assisted contracts valued at more than $2,000. Critics like Walker say it unnecessarily increases the government’s costs.

"Any economic plan that does not bring our federal labor laws into the 21st Century is incomplete,” Walker says in excerpts of his speech released by his campaign. "Just like President Reagan, I believe we need to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.,” he added.

From a strategic political standpoint, Walker is certain to find considerable public sympathy for his views. A 2014 Gallup survey of Americans’ attitudes about the labor movement showed that only 53 percent still approve of unions and their goals. The vast majority indicated that it favors “right to work” laws that have greatly accelerated the decline of private-sector union organizations.

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At one time labor unions wielded substantial political and economic clout, but their influence and support is now greatly diminished in the private sector – while growing rapidly in the government sector. Indeed, AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), the American Federation of Government Employees, and the American Federation of Teachers boast a membership rate of 35.3 percent, according to Department of Labor statistics. That is five times greater than the 6.7 percent union rate within the private sector job market.

"In 2012, taxpayers subsidized 3,395,187 hours of 'official time' time spent working for the union or lobbying,” he said. “That cost the taxpayers $156 million.” 

As for the NLRB, Walker claimed that it had become “a one-sided proxy for big union bosses – often at the expense of taxpayers and workers. The NLRB is an independent government agency responsible for conducting elections to determine labor union representation and for investigating and correcting unfair labor practices.

"Our plan gets rid of the NLRB - and reassigns the few necessary responsibilities to more fair and balanced areas of the government,” he said. “We need to level the playing field which will make it easier to create more jobs and higher wages.”  

"Next, we must take on the big government union bosses in Washington - just like I did in Wisconsin.”

Related: Scott Walker, the ‘Do It My Way’ Gov, Enters 2016 Race 

Walker, who rose to prominence as governor in 2011 by slashing taxes and clashing with state employees over collective bargaining rights, has stressed his anti-union credentials since launching his presidential campaign in July. After making an early big splash with grass roots conservatives in Iowa and capturing an early lead in some national polls, Walker – like other traditional candidates -- has been totally eclipsed by billionaire Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

He scored a shockingly low 3 percent Republican approval rating in a new Washington Post/ABC News national poll published on Sunday – down 11 percentage points from the last survey conducted in July. He has also suffered major hemorrhaging of support in Iowa, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.