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article imageUS: States seek new laws to control labor unions

By Lynn Herrmann     Jan 5, 2011 in Politics
Washington - State politicians, faced with mushrooming budget deficits, are attempting to force through new legislation that will restrict the power of labor unions, specifically targeting those unions representing government employees.
Currently, government employees’ salaries and pensions comprise a large portion of state budgets. Political leaders, themselves government employees, see those salaries and pensions as a target for out-of-control budget deficits.
Newly elected New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is expected to announce on Wednesday a one-year freeze on salaries of state workers, the New York Times reports. That freeze could save the state $200 million to $400 million but it would issue a challenge to the long-time clout labor has enjoyed in the state.
In California, new Democratic governor Jerry Brown is faced with staggering budget deficit, more than $20 billion, left behind by outgoing governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Brown has promised to review government worker benefits and on Tuesday announced he would propose a “tough budget” for these “tough times,” according to NPR.
In his inaugural speech on Monday, Brown called for transparency in state pensions. “We will also have to look at our system of pensions and how to ensure that they are transparent and actuarially sound and fair — fair to the workers and fair to the taxpayers,” he is quoted in the NY Times.
The labor union-busting tactics are not limited to just the Democratic party, however. Republican lawmakers in ten states, including Indiana, Maine and Missouri, are searching for new ways to weaken unions. Although unions representing government workers are the primary target, unions representing the private sector are also in the sights of politicians. Legislation is in the works that would prohibit those private sector unions from requiring union workers to pay fees or dues.
For example, Ohio’s new republican governor, John Kasich, has proposed what appears to be the most aggressive agenda. In addition to calling for a ban on strikes by teachers in public school systems, he has also suggested state-financed home care and child care workers, all 14,000 of them, have their right to unionize be taken away.
According to the NY Times, Kasich said: “If they want to strike they should be fired. They’ve got good jobs, they’ve got high pay, the get good benefits, a great retirement. What are they striking for?”
Political elections could be greatly influenced if politicians are able to limit the political clout and bargaining ability of unions.
Scott Walker is the Governor of Wisconsin
Scott Walker is the Governor of Wisconsin
New Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has gone as far as suggesting government workers not have the right to form unions and associated bargaining contracts. In a fine example of us versus them speech, the new governor divided American taxpayers into two categories.
“We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots,” Walker said, according to the NY Times. “The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers,” he added.
While some of the proposals may never see the light of law, those that do succeed could influence future elections. Labor, long associated with the left, could see cash flow into union treasuries greatly reduced.
Some see the new proposals as payback, a retaliation due to the fact that unions recently spent over $200 million in attempting to defeat Republicans politicians in the last political campaign.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is the primary union for state employees and it spent more than $90 million on the recent elections. Most of that money went toward helping Democratic candidates.
Gerald McEntee, the AFSCME president, said: “I see this as payback for the role we played in the 2010 elections,” according to the NY Times.
Although the Democratic party had two years to get their house in order after President Obama was sworn into office, they were unable to make little progress. Now, the payback, if it comes, will happen thanks to the recent power shift. That November “shellacking” occurred largely due to a failed leadership. Republicans added seven additional state governorships to their war wagon as well as gaining control of 26 state legislatures, up from the 14 they controlled before the elections.
More about Labor union, Budget, Cuomo
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