A Desperate Scott Walker Brings Anti-Labor Crusade to National Stage

AP Photo/Isaac Brekken

Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks during a town hall meeting Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, in Las Vegas. 

Earlier this week, Republican presidential contender Scott Walker detailed how he would bring his anti-labor crusade to the federal level, unveiling an expansive plan that would eliminate the National Labor Relations Board, ban federal public sector unions, and make the United States a right-to-work country, among a host of other anti-worker policies he said would give “power to the people, not the union bosses.”

The Wisconsin governor’s campaign is tanking. Like many other former GOP standouts, he has struggled for air in a room that’s currently being dominated by Donald Trump. Rick Perry, who was seen early on as a potential front-runner, has already been forced to drop out.

As recently as July, Walker was leading the polls in Iowa. He’s since plummeted to the bottom of the Iowa field with just 3 percent support. Worse yet, as he admitted after yesterday’s debate, his entire campaign is premised on winning the Iowa caucuses, which kick-off the contest for delegates. “I think we’re putting all our eggs in the basket of Iowa, we’re committed to Iowa, and I think that’ll help us make the case all throughout the country,” Walker told MSNBC .

With Walker following a similar downward spiral as Perry, the announcement of his anti-labor plan appears to be an attempt at to lock-down uneasy big-money donors who stand to benefit from gutting worker rights. Walker needs to ensure that he will remain funded well into the primary season.

“The way the system is now set up, to stay alive, you have to really convince your relatively few big donors to stay in the game,” says Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center. “[His plan] seems to be aimed at the donors, not the public.”

Walker has a lot to gain from big contributors. His 2012 recall election helped him tap into a national network of big donors, one that he’s continued to draw from in his presidential campaign. Republican mega-donor and Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson gave him $250,000 during the recall. Walker, along with the rest of the GOP field, has since aggressively courted Adelson’s support in 2015. He’s also attracted the attention and dollars of the Koch Brothers and their vast conservative network of donors. Back in August, Walker reportedly won an informal straw poll at a meeting of Koch-affiliated mega-donors.

His affiliated super PAC, Unintimidated PAC, has already raised more than $20 million and spent $7 million of that on Iowa ad buys. Still, that remains far behind the more than $100 million that Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC has managed to raise so far.

Facing dwindling poll numbers and following lackluster performances in the first two debates, Walker is thus doubling down on an anti-labor platform that reads more like a Koch Brothers wish-list. The Republican field has so far been remarkably light on detailed policy, but Walker has now dived into the weeds with a number of policies that clearly cater to special interests, not the general populace.

What does Walker’s plan call for?

Eliminating the National Labor Relations Board

The National Labor Relations Board, which has been the primary federal enforcer of worker rights for 80 years, currently has a Democratic majority and has recently pushed through a number of pro-worker policies, including speeding up the process of union elections. Most recently, the board set a new paradigm for joint-employer standards, increasing the responsibility of companies that lean on contractors and franchisees in their business models. Even more than usual, the labor board has become a political target for the Republican Party and the big business lobby: It only took a couple weeks for GOP senators to introduce legislation that would overturn the new joint-employer standard.

Walker takes the Republicans’ anti-board ire one giant leap further, calling for a complete elimination of the board. The plan calls the NLRB a “one-sided advocate for big-labor special interests,” and would transfer its responsibilities to the National Mediation Board—a government entity that with its 51 employees (compared to the NLRB’s 1,600) is woefully unequipped to meaningfully administer the nation’s myriad labor relations disputes and elections.

Rid the Federal Government of Public Sector Unions

Walker’s proudest moment as governor was his stripping the state’s public sector workers of their collective bargaining rights. Walker now wants to gut public sector unions on the federal level. “Big-government unions should have no place in the federal workplace, and I will reform the law to prohibit them,” he states.

Walker argues that federal unions’ “official time” spent lobbying is a waste of taxpayer money and tries to pin the Veterans’ Affairs debacle on unionized federal workers. He says that he would go after mandatory union fees that he says go directly to political activity. That, however, is not true. Membership in federal unions is not compulsory and fees that are taken out of paychecks go directly to collective bargaining costs.

“Collective bargaining is not a right,” Walker said on the trail earlier this week. “It is an expensive entitlement.”

Make the United States One Giant Right-to-Work State

In March, Walker signed a bill into law making Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state in the country. He now calls for imposing this tenet of his anti-worker agenda on the nation. His platform calls for a federal law that would make right-to-work the default setting for all private and state and local public sector unions—essentially flipping current law on its head, states would have to then opt-out of right-to-work status. State right-to-work laws have decimated union membership and created a “free-rider” problem as non-members who don’t pay dues still benefit from collective bargaining gains. Making right-to-work the standard would pose a grave threat to the already-blunted strength of unions nationwide.

These proposals don’t complete Walker’s anti-worker to-do list. He also wants to ban “fair-share” payments, which public sector unions have used as a way to lessen the free-rider problem; the constitutionality of such dues are the subject of an upcoming Supreme Court case. He wants to roll back the much-heralded progress that President Obama has made on workers rights in recent months. Under the laughably misleading guise of “restoring employee flexibility,” Walker pledges that on his first day as president, he’ll overturn Obama’s recent Labor Department rule changes, which have expanded eligibility for overtime and mandated paid sick leave for federal contractors. “Unfortunately, these rules will only reduce wages and deprive workers of the flexibility to balance work and life commitments,” his plan states.

Labor scholars have been shocked by the audacity and scope of Walker’s plan. "I've never seen anything like this," longtime labor professor Ann Hodges told AP. "This will take the breath away from anyone who's worked in labor relations for any length of time. ... It's pretty draconian."

Organized labor is not amused, either. “Scott Walker can now add one-trick pony to his resume, right underneath national disgrace," said AFL-CIO spokesman Eric Hauser. "His campaign is floundering and so he does what he always does when he can't think of real solutions. He attacks workers."

Clearly, Walker is desperately trying to guarantee that his big-business donors will stick with him. “It becomes a game of survival—convincing donors that you have a shot and giving them something to believe in,” Campaign Legal Center’s Noble says.

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