In a speech Monday in Las Vegas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will try to rally his plummeting poll numbers by promising to take his war on labor unions to a national level. If elected president, Walker says he will enact a federal version of the controversial “right-to-work” law he signed in Wisconsin earlier this year, which caused union membership to plummet. He also plans to take his elimination of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law nationwide, meaning lower pay for workers on public works construction projects.
In a multi-point plan he’s calling “Power to the People,” Walker is also promising to eliminate the National Labor Relations Board — which investigates and protects workers from unfair labor practices. Calling the Board “broken beyond repair” and “a one-sided advocate for big labor special interests,” Walker plans to divide up its responsibilities between federal courts and the National Mediation Board.
Walker could carry out some of his plan unilaterally, using executive orders, but some major pieces, such as the elimination of all unions of federal workers, would require approval from Congress, gutting laws that have been on the books since the Great Depression.
In the text of his plan, Walker makes several inaccurate representations of current law, such as saying “workers deserve to have the freedom to choose whether they want to be in a labor union or not” when such freedom is already in place. He also vows to reverse the Obama Administration’s recent order giving 5 million more American workers the right to be paid for overtime hours.
Yet if Walker succeeds, such moves would decimate organized labor at a time their numbers and strength is already in steep decline.
Even as more evidence accumulates proving labor unions shrink income inequality, increase social mobility, narrow the gender pay gap, and raise wages for everyone — particularly workers of color — Republicans in Congress and in state governments have made a concerted effort to reduce their power.
Over the past few years, Republican lawmakers have sought to weaken the NLRB by refusing to confirm any nominees to fill its empty seats, and they’ve been aided in that effort by the conservative members of the Supreme Court. Without a functioning labor board with at least three members, workers across the country have nowhere to report intimidation from their bosses or abusive work conditions.
Though he has been the loudest and most adamant, Scott Walker is far from the only GOP candidate in the 2016 race to make such promises. Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul have all taken time on the campaign trail to criticize labor unions and vow to strip them of various rights. Walker’s new plan to go after organized labor nationwide — which labor experts have called “draconian” and “unprecedented” — may be an attempt to stand out in a field of candidates steadily outpacing him in the polls.
In a nod to this Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, Walker compared his crackdown on collective bargaining to President Reagan’s decision to fire striking air traffic control workers, saying, “It was a bold move — at great political risk — but it was the right thing to do.”
How the message will play in Las Vegas, a city with strong service industry workers unions, remains to be seen.