The hidden issue in South Carolina primary: labor union clout
Mitt Romney in particular has used the South Carolina primary to test anti-labor union policies as a campaign issue. His pitch to expand right-to-work laws could lead to Wisconsin redux.
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For his part, Romney has repeatedly targeted last April’s decision by the National Labor Relations Board to file a complaint against Boeing Co. for locating a new production line for its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina rather than at its home base in Washington State, which is not a right-to-work state. The move by Boeing’s management was seen as retaliation against frequently strikes by a strong machinists union in Washington State.Skip to next paragraph
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A day after President Obama bypassed the Senate to make three recess appointments to the NLRB, Romney launched an ad campaign in South Carolina blasting the president for stacking the NLRB with “union stooges.”
“You can’t build a factory in South Carolina because South Carolina is a right-to-work state,” the ad said.
The issue has also come up in Republican debates. Rick Santorum, a former US senator from Pennsylvania’s steel belt, had to defend his own votes opposing right-to-work legislation at Thursday’s debate in Charleston, S.C.
He said he had already "signed a pledge and said I would sign a national right-to-work bill,” but added that his state had “made a decision not to be right to work.”
Twenty-two states are currently right-to-work states, mainly located in the south, the southwest and a stretch of the Great Plains from Texas to North Dakota. Conservatives pushed right-to-work bills in 11 other states in 2011. All failed.
But a presidential election battle, along with prolonged economic stress, is giving the issue higher visibility – and drawing funding into the race from both labor and business groups with deep pockets.
“The early primaries are putting a bigger spotlight than usual on the right-to-work issue,” says Patrick Semmens, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, which lobbies for right-to-work laws.
“You have a perfect storm of economic and jobs issues, the fact that South Carolina and New Hampshire both had important battles over the right to work at the state level, and a president whose administration is doing things to advance the interest of unions to the detriment of individual employees and the economy,” he adds.