Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker declared all-out war on unions at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas on Monday, Sept. 14.
The famously anti-union Wisconsin governor unveiled a set of proposals designed to roll back decades of labor law, including scrapping all federal government employee unions, eliminating the National Labor Relations Board and making right-to-work the law of the land unless individual states opt out.
“His campaign is floundering and so he does what he always does when he can’t think of real solutions, he attacks workers,” AFL-CIO communications director Eric Hauser said, calling Walker a “one trick pony” and a “national disgrace.”
“Working people want leaders who will protect their freedom to speak up on the job,” he said, “not demagogues like Walker who will do and say anything to get ahead.”
“He has been a disaster for working people in Wisconsin,” said IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, “and now he is trying to inflict the same pain on working people across America.”
Ann Hodges, a professor at the University of Richmond who has studied labor law for more than 40 years, called Walker’s proposals “draconian.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she told the Associated Press. “This will take the breath away from anyone who’s worked in labor relations for any length of time.”
In addition to the top-line proposals, Walker also pushed a plan to make organizing more difficult, blocking union officials’ access to employee information like phone numbers and banning the automatic withdrawal of union dues for any political activity.
“He made it almost illegal to be a union member in Wisconsin,” said Milwaukee Local 715 Business Manager Mark Biedenbender. “To take his Wisconsin policies national would just be devastating.”
Walker first gained national attention during a protracted fight with unions less than two months into his first term as governor, where he effectively ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees despite a huge outcry from Democrats and working people of all stripes.
Embraced by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers and their affiliated organizations, he successfully fought off a recall election in 2012 and won re-election in 2014.
For months, he led the Republican presidential field in the crucial state of Iowa, but his poll numbers have dropped precipitously in recent weeks. On the day of his latest anti-union proposal, his support in Iowa placed him fifth among Republican hopefuls at just 5.7 percent, down from more than 20 percent at the beginning of August.
Walker now trails Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina in the first caucus state. And, in a sign that his faltering support is causing concerns among campaign staff, Walker announced over the weekend that he would cancel events in California and Michigan to refocus his efforts on like-minded conservative voters in Iowa and South Carolina.
After Walker’s announcement, Denis Hamill, the son of a longtime Local 3 member told the story of his immigrant father’s life-changing induction into the IBEW brotherhood in the early 1960s.
In a moving piece printed in the New York Daily News, Hamill writes:
“My father’s union rewrote the life story of my family. The year after my father became a Local 3 man, we had our first-ever vacation, in a bungalow in Keansburg, N.J. The brotherhood of my dad’s union lifted my family out of tenements and housing projects into the middle class. Before every Thanksgiving dinner, my father would look over the bounty and raise a toast to ‘Local 3 President Harry Van Arsdale Jr.’
“So when I hear a clown like Scott Walker promising to bust unions from sea to shining sea, I see a guy who wants to send American middle-class workers back to the sweatshop and into a two-tiered nation of haves and have-nots.”
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from the Wisconsin AFL-CIO