Will Walker's Latest Clueless Attack On Unions Signal The Death Knell For A Campaign That Has Already Capsized?
Once the Koch brothers struck a deal with Sheldon Adelson that his boy Marco Rubio could be the vice presidential nominee, it looked like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would be able to overcome Jeb Bush and be the Republicans' candidate for president. Things didn't quite work out as planned. Walker has lately nearly disappeared from even second-tier polling and showed up on the newest Washington Post/ABC poll at 2%, tied for 9th place with failed CEO Carly Fiorina.
His strategy for winning neighboring Iowa and then sweeping away the opposition collapsed as Iowans got to know him better and his polling started plunging. The serial flip-flopper went from first place (18%) to 8th place (3%) in just a few months, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll in Iowa. Pretty bad... but better than New Hampshire, where yesterday's Monmouth Poll showed him slipping into a tie for 9th place with Chris Christie, at 2%. And it was even worse news in Florida, where Gravis Marketing's new poll showed him with 1.1% among the state's likely Republican voters, worse than Huckabee and barely ahead of Rick Perry, who has already dropped out of the race. In this morning's NYTimes, their coverage of the polling data from yesterday noted that "Jeb Bush fell in the poll, to 6 percent, from 13 percent, and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin tumbled to 2 percent from 10 percent. No other candidates fell as much as those two, according to the poll." Walker has lost an astounding 80% of his support among Republican primary voters! Why does the Beltway media still talk about him as a serious contender rather than as a crank like Santorum, Jindal, Christie, Gilmore or Pataki?
Fox News warned Walker a few days ago: "A low finish in either or both Iowa or South Carolina, the third state to vote, frequently results in donors pulling out of campaigns, forcing them to end. New Hampshire votes second." Yesterday Paul Waldman at the Washington Post referred to this disintegrating campaign as Scott Walker's race to the bottom. Walker is hoping GOP animus toward organized labor, the issue that has so endeared him to the Koch brothers, would do for him what anti-immigration fanaticism has done for Trump.
His plan to attack organized labor as the last ditch of his failing campaign started yesterday. He is determined to see every labor union crushed and every vestige of workers’ power banished.
While he doesn’t say so explicitly, what Walker seems to hope for is really a world without any labor unions at all, or at the very least a world where unions are so weakened that they are unable to advocate for anyone. Here are the major parts of his plan:
• Eliminate the National Labor Relations Board. Walker says the NLRB is “a one-sided advocate for big-labor special interests,” but the truth is that Democrats appoint pro-labor members to the board, while Republicans appoint anti-labor members to the board. Transferring the NLRB’s authority to adjudicate labor disputes to the courts would probably be a mixed bag in terms of worker rights.
“• Eliminate big-government unions.” This is pretty straightforward. You don’t like unions? Get rid of ’em. Today there are around seven million Americans represented by a public sector union, and around one million of those are employed by the federal government (including the Postal Service). If Walker got his way, the latter group could kiss their representation goodbye-- and given his record, it’s pretty clear he wouldn’t mind getting rid of the state and local public-sector unions as well.
• Institute a national “right to work” law. The phrase “right to work” is a triumph of conservative PR, because how could anyone object to a right to work? What it means in practice, however, is that in places where unions negotiate salaries and benefits for workers, those workers can’t be required to contribute to the union that got them those salaries and benefits (no one can be required to join a union, but where there are no right to work laws, you can be required to contribute when the union negotiates on your behalf). Whenever a right to work law is being debated in a particular state, Republicans argue that because the law would weaken unions, it will draw employers who don’t want to have to bother with the high wages and good benefits those unions can negotiate.
Which, the evidence suggests, is probably true. But such laws have another effect: they pull down wages and benefits. So that’s the bargain a state makes when passes a right to work law: more jobs, but worse jobs.
This isn't a program that's going to steal away Trump's base of white blue-collar workers, although the Koch brothers may get boners reading it. If this is what Walker meant by wreaking havoc on Washington... well, it's even more unlikely now than ever before that he'll ever get there. Interestingly, the Anzalone Liszt Grove Research just released some information that may make Walker regret he even tried going down this path. Support for labor unions has started to grow, after hitting an all-time low of 48% disapproval in 2009.
Think about what would happen if you took this policy national. On a state level, it’s possible for a right to work law to draw a factory from one state to another. But if every state was a right to work state, then that incentive to move is eliminated. The decrease in union representation would spread, which drives down wages and benefits for everyone. Whether you think that’s a good thing depends on whether you are concerned with the interests of large business owners or the interests of workers.
There are a number of smaller ideas in Walker’s plan, like eliminating the requirement that federal contractors pay the “prevailing wage” (i.e. union wage) for construction projects, further reinforcing what seems to be Walker’s belief that the problem with unions is that they let workers earn too much money.
...Though Walker’s plan is couched in all kinds of pro-worker rhetoric like that (and endless repetition of the phrase “union bosses”), in truth it’s about as pure an expression of supply-side, trickle-down economics as you’ll find. Its basic principle is that once we eliminate workers’ ability to bargain collectively, everything will turn out great for everyone.
But here’s what we know: union membership has been declining for decades, while incomes have been stagnant and Americans have felt increasingly at the mercy of employers who treat them like interchangeable cogs who can be manipulated, surveilled, and tossed aside at the employer’s whim. There’s no question that Scott Walker succeeded in creating a politically beneficial showdown with public sector unions in Wisconsin. But how many Americans think that the problem with our economy is that too much power in the workplace lies in the hands of workers?
[P]opular support for labor unions is returning to pre-recession levels. Just last month, Gallup released a poll announcing that labor unions are enjoying an approval rating of 58%, jumping five points over the last year and 10 points since 2009. That is in line with every Gallup poll for 70 years before the recession, which found a majority of Americans approve of labor unions (72% approve 1936 / 60% approve 2008). For the first time in more than six years, more Americans would like to see labor unions have a greater influence in the country rather than less (37% more / 35% less / 24% same). At the height of anti-labor sentiment in 2009, 42% of Americans said labor unions should have less influence while only 25% thought they should have more.
Today, union membership hovers around 11 percent-- half of what it once was when data was first tracked over thirty years ago. Views are mixed on whether this decline in membership has been good for the country (45% mostly bad / 43% mostly good) but a majority of Americans believe it has been bad for working people (52% mostly bad / 40% mostly good).
So what has inspired this rising favorability towards labor? Could it be a byproduct of an improving economy coupled with frustration over stagnant wages? A retaliation against the bludgeon a number of GOP governors have taken to unions in their states? A result of changing demographics, specifically in lower wage industries like food service and hospitality? Could it be some combination thereof?
Support among different demographics gives us a few clues. 66 percent of young adults, ages 18-34, approve of labor unions and 44 percent want them to have more influence-- the highest ratings among all age groups. Unions also enjoy a higher margin of support among minorities, a demographic steadily growing as a share of the population. African-Americans rate labor unions the most favorably (60% favorable / 29% unfavorable) while nearly half of Hispanics view labor unions favorably (49% favorable / 32 unfavorable). Among low earners, specifically those working full time in minimum wage jobs (earning less than $30,000 annually), labor unions have a 23 point net favorability rating (54% favorable / 31% unfavorable).
Not only do minorities view labor unions more favorably, they are also more likely to be members of a labor union, according to the most recent data by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics . This fact is not lost on labor leaders who see mainstream efforts advocating greater racial equality and immigration reform as keys to their survival. Hispanics make up one-quarter of all workers in the accommodation and food services industry , and are joining labor unions' member roles at higher rates than white workers.
...Among the GOP field, candidates wear their union-bashing credentials as badges of honor in a regular game of Who Hates Labor Unions More. Earlier this spring, Scott Walker went so far as to compare terrorist groups like ISIS to labor demonstrators during his first term. John Kasich joked that if he were king, he "would abolish all teachers' lounges, where they sit together and worry about 'Woe is us.'" And Chris Christie did not mince words when he said that the American Federation of Teachers deserved a punch in the face.
What they fail to fully appreciate: these workers are far more popular than any of these GOP candidates will ever be. Moreover, according to Pew Research, labor unions enjoy sizable favorability among GOP voters today. Many Republicans are favorable towards labor unions (31% favorable / 57% unfavorable), and they are especially popular with the following GOP voters:
• Republicans who didn't go to college (41% favorable / 43% unfavorable)So the slate of GOP presidential candidates is out of step with a significant portion of their voters.
• Republicans under 35 years old (45% favorable / 44% unfavorable)
• Republicans earning less than $30,000 per year (42% favorable / 42% unfavorable)
You will not hear such sentiments among Democrats, however. Democrats are more in sync with the American population on supporting labor unions, and in turn, labor households remain an important piece of the Democratic coalition. Obama would have lost the popular vote in 2012 without strong support from union households-- he lost non-union households on election day, with union households giving him a margin of victory. The electoral impact would have been especially felt in the union-dense Midwest. In Michigan, for example, a state Obama won by nine points (Obama 54% / Romney 45%), Obama would have run dead even with Romney if no union households voted. In Wisconsin and Ohio, similarly, union households provided the margin of victory for Obama.
The union-dense Midwest is a region the GOP plans to win by alienating people of color and running up the white vote. Reality reveals this strategy's shortcomings, however: it's hard to win enough white Midwestern votes when you're telling a big chunk of these voters that their right to organize is what's ruining America.
Even the Koch brothers are starting to lose faith in Walker-- not as a devoted puppet, but as someone who can deliver for them. Their network is starting to trend towards Texas fascist Ted Cruz, which will leave Walker-- and Rubio-- up shit's creek without a paddle. A timely little reminder: someone whose credentials as a supporter of the legitimate rights of working families and as someone who has always backed-- and will always back-- organized labor, is Bernie Sanders. (Read the comments in this post after a union disregarded its members and endorsed Hillary.) If you can, please consider supporting Bernie's grassroots campaign here.