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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New Hampshire passed a right-to-work bill last year, after Republicans took back the House and Senate in 2010. But Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, with an override failing by just 12 votes. GOP lawmakers are now lining up new measures to curb union influence, including eliminating automatic payroll deduction for union dues.Skip to next paragraph
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Conservatives say that right-to-work rules improve the economic climate of a state and help create jobs. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, tapped on Thursday to give the Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address, and a GOP-controlled legislature are gearing up to make Indiana the 23rd right-to-work state.
“A right-to-work law will mean more jobs for Hoosiers,” writes Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan. “From 2000 to 2010, employees in right-to-work states increased 2.3 percent, compared to a 4.0 percent decline in non-right-to-work states,” he adds.
Critics respond that the competition between states to lower costs for business also lowers job quality for workers – and does not necessarily produce more jobs.
“In the 10 years since Oklahoma adopted RTW, the number of manufacturing jobs in the state has fallen by one-third,” writes Gordon Lafer, a political economist at the University of Oregon. “The number of companies coming into the state – supposed to increase by “eight to ten times” – has decreased by 30 percent.”
But what’s firing up the politics of right-to-work in the presidential campaign cycle is not jobs, he adds. It’s the prospect of delivering a severe blow to organized labor as a political force.
Labor unions have contributed more than $395.6 million to presidential and congressional races since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Of the top 20 all-time biggest donors, unions account for 12 of them.
This week, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, the top all-time union donor, launched a $1 million ad campaign in Florida, targeting Romney’s business career but aimed as well at his support for right-to-work laws.
“The only serious opposition to the business lobby’s agenda comes from organized labor,” says Professor Lafer, who is also a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and has advised Democrats. “There is a convergence of forces seizing on the right-to-work issue, saying: This is our moment to cut off our biggest opponent on a whole range of issues.”