The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 28, 2012

GOP platform wants no part of union-backed wage advantage

By The Building Tradesman

Where unions are present, wages tend to be higher. And few would argue that raising American workers’ wages and improving the level of health care and insurance coverage would be a major stimulant for a struggling U.S. economy.

If that’s going to happen, however, the Republican Party wants it done without the help, or as they might put it, interference, from the nation’s labor movement.

“Unlike in the past, this year’s Republican platform in Tampa, Fla., does not contain any sympathetic nods to the nation’s labor unions, which have become among the Republicans’ most formidable political foes,” writes Stephen Greenhouse, in the Aug. 30 New York Times. “Instead, the platform calls for numerous steps that could significantly weaken America’s labor unions – public-sector and private-sector ones – and help speed organized labor’s overall decline.”

According to the platform adopted last month by the Republican Party, “We support the right of States to enact Right-to-Work laws and encourage them to do so to promote greater economic liberty. Ultimately, we support the enactment of a National Right-to-Work law to promote worker freedom and to promote greater economic liberty.”

More statewide right-to-work laws, or a national RTW law may promote greater economic liberty, but it won’t improve wages.

A study published last year by Gordon Lafer of the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute found that “wages in right-to-work states are 3.2 percent lower than those in non-RTW states,” after controlling for several factors. “Using the average wage in non-RTW states as the base ($22.11), the average full-time, full-year worker in an RTW state makes about $1,500 less annually than a similar worker in a non-RTW state.”

The Republican platform has some specific darts for the unionized U.S. construction industry, too.

The platform, writes Josh Eidelson of “takes a more hostile stance towards construction unions, demanding ‘an end to the Project Labor Agreements’ and ‘repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act.’ Both PLAs and Davis-Bacon establish wage standards for construction projects, making it easier for contractors that use union labor to compete with cheaper nonunion contractors for work (Davis-Bacon covers federal contracts; PLAs are project-specific agreements).”

As we have consistently pointed out, the Davis-Bacon Act and statewide prevailing wage laws are the single most important laws on the books that support the wages of all construction workers, union and nonunion.

There isn’t much light between the platform and what’s going on in the real world of statewide politics. Hard-right lawmakers in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and elsewhere have pushed all manner of anti-union laws through state legislatures in the last 20 months.

The GOP’s platform has come a long way, even from the Reagan Administration. When Reagan was first elected in 1980, their platform said: “We reaffirm our commitment to the fundamental principle of fairness in labor relations, including the legal right of unions to organize workers and to represent them through collective bargaining.

That language is long-gone.

The AFL-CIO commented: “At least today, Republicans no longer mask their hatred of workers and their unions.