The Republican success in the ‘mid-term election’ in the autumn of 2010 forces the American labor movement on the defensive.
At the turn of 2010/2011 there now sits Republican governors in seven new seats, so the Conservative Party has 29 out of USA’s 50 governor posts. And the party has simultaneously gained a majority in 26 provinces elected assemblies that have the right to legislate locally – to the 14 provinces before the New Year.
Ohio: Prohibition of strikes and organizing
The Republican offensive against the unions in the first place directed against public servants.
In the state of Ohio, the newly elected Republican governor, John Kasich, has plans to prohibit publicly employed teachers to strike. A prohibition which is in line with strike restrictions for police and firefighters in other U.S. states.
– If they [the teachers, ed.] will strike, they should be fired, qoutes the New York Times Governor Kasich.
– They have a good job they are highly paid, they have good working conditions and excellent retirement terms. So what are they striking for?
John Kasich would also deprive 14,000 educators, social workers and health workers of their right to form unions.
Other governors, including Scott Walker in Wisconsin, is threatening to remove the right to form unions and negotiate working conditions for the states employees.
– We can no longer live in a society where public servants are the privileged, and the taxpayers who pay the bill, are the underprivileged, quotes New York Times, Scott Walker
– Bottom line is that we need to look at all the legal means available to us, in an attempt to tilt the balance on to the taxpayer side, he says.
Organized Republican campaign
The Republican attack on the unions is a result of an organized campaign, says the American labor movement.
America’s largest nationwide labour union, the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations, warnes in an internal working document that the unions are facing “serious attack, especially in the former blue or purple states [democratic and non-republican states, ed. ], now controlled by Republicans.”
The paper points out that 16 states are planning a financial starvation of the public unions by requiring all state employees active commitment before their contributions can be used for political activity.
The paper is particularly concerned of the restrictions on the union work’s opportunities in six states where the unions so far have been strong but where Republicans now are sitting on both the governorship and both have a majoity in both houses of state parliaments, namely: Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Circumstantial evidence of a coordinated Republican attack on the unions is also supported by New York Times.
The newspaper writes that the Republican Party has set up a coordinating group called the American Legislative Exchange Council.
The Council consists of both Republican politicians and businessmen who are working to spread the union-hostile actions from state to state.
The council send out information, via e-mail, on the latest efforts to curb the unions power as well as proposals for legislative texts.
Michael Hough, chief of one of the Council working groups, says, according to the New York Times, that the purpose is not political, but merely seeks to weaken the labor movements ‘swollen’ power.
– Government budgets are growing and growing because of the costs of employee pensions and salaries, he said.
– We must deal with it now.
Trade unions see it as revenge
The U.S. trade unions, however, believes that Republicans have explicit political goals with the campaign. The unions spent up to 200 million dollars to fight the Republican Party during the autumn election campaign
– I see it as payback for the role we played in the 2010-elections, says Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, America’s largest union of public employees.
– Now they have directed their sights on us, he says.
Ten new states will adopt the ‘right-to-work’
The Republican attack on the unions is not only limited to the public employees. They also want to restrict the private employees trade unions the right to collective bargaining and organizing members.
Governor John Kasich in Ohio, for example, want’s to remove requirement that the state pay union agreed wages to construction workers on public contracts, whether the workers are members of the union or not.
He has also plans to ban the use of binding arbitration to decide disputes between the state and the unions representing the employees.
Ten Republican states also plan to introduce so-called ‘right-to-work’ legislation already in force in 22 U.S. states, particularly in southern and western states where local law prevents unions may require that employees working on agreement terms, joins or pays fees to the unions.
Trade unions criticize ‘right-to-work’ legislation because it allows workers in workplaces that have collective terms, to scrounge on the benefits of collective bargaining without contributing to them.
The unions believe that the law leads to lower wages and working conditions due to the weakening of unions. Trade unions may, among other things refer to the fact that wages are lower in states that have adopted “right-to-work ‘laws.
Wage freezing – even in democratic states
However, it is not only in the Republican states that public employees’ working conditions and trade union power is under attack.
In New York it is expected that the newly elected Democratic governor, Andrew M. Coumo, already in his first week of his mandate is going to introduce a one-year freeze on wages of public employees in the state.
This is to fight a growing state deficit in the budgets. According to the New York Times this will give a saving of between 200 and 400 million dollars.
The same may well happen in California when Democrat Jerry Brown first January took over the former movie star, bodybuilder and Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s record.
Brown says he will review the Conditions of Land staff to curb a huge deficit in the state treasury.
In his inaugural speech on Monday 3 January he announced that he, among other things, would review the employee pension plans using an argument about ‘fairness’ for both employees and taxpayers.