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“Scott Walker’s Race To The Bottom”: His Plan Is As Pure An Expression Of Supply-Side, Trickle-Down Economics As You’ll Find

Scott Walker wants to take his fight against organized labor national. Today he released a plan for a new war not just on union representation, but on worker rights in general.

It’s quite a document, one we might call Scott Walker’s Race to the Bottom.

I have no doubt that Walker is sincere in his desire to see every labor union crushed and every vestige of workers’ power banished — or, in his lingo, “flexibility.” I’d also be surprised if any of the other candidates objected to any part of it. So the plan is worth understanding if you want to grasp what today’s GOP is offering today’s workers.

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 it passes a right to work law:  more jobs, but worse jobs.

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. And I have to highlight this bit:

“The Obama administration’s government-knows-best proposed rules will require employers to pay overtime rates to greater numbers of salaried works and require federal contractors to provide paid sick leave. Unfortunately, these rules will only reduce wages and deprive workers of the flexibility to balance work and life commitments.

“On Day One of my administration, I will repeal any regulation that reduces employee flexibility, as well as work for changes to federal law to allow time off for overtime hours worked. My changes will protect workplace flexibility by ensuring that misguided big-government mandates do not stand in the way of individuals and families.”

So Walker will roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to make more workers eligible for overtime pay and sick leave, because that would mean more “employee flexibility.” Indeed, just imagine the worker making $7.50 an hour saying to herself, “Boy, now that I have the flu I sure am glad I have to choose between dragging myself into work or staying home and losing my pay. Thanks for the flexibility, President Walker!”

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?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, September 14, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Organized Labor, Scott Walker, Workers Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right Question To Ask About Government”: What Steps Does Government Take To Empower Citizens And Expand Their Rights?

Many conservatives and most libertarians argue that every new law or regulation means that government is adding to the sum total of oppression and reducing the freedom of individuals.

This way of looking at things greatly simplifies the political debate. Domestic issues are boiled down to the question of whether someone is “pro-government” or “anti-government.”

Alas for the over-simplifiers, it’s an approach that misreads the nature of the choices that regulators, politicians and citizens regularly face. It ignores that the market system itself could not exist without the rules that government establishes, beginning with statutes protecting private property and also the various measures against the use of force and fraud in business and individual transactions.

More important, it overlooks the ways in which the steps government takes often empower citizens and expand their rights. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of work.

The run-up to Labor Day this year brought a spate of news articles and commentaries on the actions of the National Labor Relations Board and other government agencies to strengthen the rights of workers and enhance their bargaining power relative to employers.

Last week, Noam Scheiber offered an important account in the New York Times of how the Obama administration has been “pursuing an aggressive campaign to restore protections for workers that have been eroded by business activism, conservative governance and the evolution of the economy in recent decades.”

Among the milestones Scheiber cited was a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision upholding an Obama-era rule providing minimum-wage and overtime protections to nearly 2 million home health-care workers. They certainly felt empowered by government, not oppressed. So did the employees of contractors and franchises who were granted collective bargaining rights by the National Labor Relations Board.

Fast-food chains provide the obvious example of how loopholes related to new work arrangements and franchise agreements can let employers out of their traditional obligations. In the case of purveyors of hamburgers and chicken tenders, the parent companies set all sorts of detailed requirements for how these businesses should operate — and then turn around and claim that when it comes to workers’ rights, their franchises are utterly independent.

One of the most fascinating struggles, still ongoing, is over new regulations that the Labor Department is trying to establish to ensure that those who give investment advice to people with 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts base their judgments on the best interests of their clients. Along with defined-contribution retirement plans, they involve some $13 trillion in investments.

The Labor Department proposal would require investment advisers to abide by a “fiduciary” standard — meaning that the best-interest-of-the-client yardstick should be their sole criterion in offering counsel to clients. If this seems obvious, that’s not what the current law requires. As Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in an interview, the standard now is only that an investment be suitable. “What the hell is ‘suitable’?” Perez asked, noting that he would hope for more than just “suitable” advice from his doctor.

The issue is whether some investment advisers might offer conflicted guidance influenced by “backdoor payments and hidden fees often buried in fine print,” as the Labor Department put it in a document explaining why change is needed.

“I don’t believe that folks who provide advice wake up with malice in their hearts,” Perez said. But he added that it is only natural that advisers might lean toward investments from which they can also benefit. “Surprise, surprise, if you have four or five products that are suitable and one gives you a commission, guess where you will go?” The new rules, which are being heavily contested by parts of the financial industry, are an attempt to realign the incentives, Perez argued.

The investment-rule battle is a near-perfect example of how the government is plainly promoting free markets — what’s more market-oriented than building an investment portfolio? — but is also trying to make sure that the rules regulating the investments tilt toward the interests of the individual putting money at risk.

As long as there are markets, government will have to establish rules determining how they operate. These necessarily affect the interests of market participants. Many of the choices are not between more or less government. They are about whether what government does provides greater benefit to workers or employers, management or unions, individual investors or investment firms.

“Which side are you on?” This question from the old union song is the right question to ask about government.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 6, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Government, Labor Day, Workers Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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