Meet SHRM – the HR Association Lobbying & Suing to Roll Back Worker Rights

“If it happens that you don’t agree with one of SHRM’s positions, we ask that if you disagree you please refrain from that discussion.” –Kathleen Coulombe, SHRM Senior Associate for Government Relations, speaking to dues-paying SHRM members at its recent legal and legislative conference on how to lobby members of Congress

Human Resources doesn’t usually conjure up images of adversarial political activism. Yet contrary to its politically neutral image, the innocuously-named Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM, pronounced “sherm”) campaigns for public policies and mounts legal efforts to block workers’ rights. The group, which claims to have grown from 130,000 members in 2000 to now having 275,000 members globally, purports to represent individual human resources professionals across all industries. And indeed, it produces HR resources such as tip sheets and reports on how to comply with the law, workshops and trainings to earn professional certification, a trade magazine, and statistical analyses about the HR industry and the job market.

But lobbying to change the regulatory climate for business is one of its major unspoken goals.

Back in 2000, union-busting lawyer and then chair of SHRM Michael Lotito (from whom we will hear again later), said “If we had a market penetration—let’s say SHRM had 500,000 members, and 250,000 of them were in grassroots networks—we would be heard not because we shouted, but because we threatened to whisper.”  SHRM has quietly and steadily grown its lobbying operation to include a half-dozen staffers, a nationwide member lobbying network, a major legal and legislative conference, and even a satellite office in Sacramento, whose sole purpose appears to be lobbying at the California statehouse.

Though its stated mission is to “serve the needs of HR professionals and advance the professional practice of human resource management,” SHRM’s legislative agenda is instead aligned with that of big corporations such as McDonalds, and major GOP donors such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the Koch Brothers’ Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Openly working in concert with dark-money business lobbying groups such as the International Franchise Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business, SHRM has been speaking out in the press, filing lawsuits, and pushing state and national bills. These efforts are aimed at blocking the rights of workers to do everything from forming unions, to having guaranteed paid sick days, to getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Undercover at SHRM’s legislative conference

So how does SHRM speak to its own members about the need to block workers’ rights? I went undercover for Political Research Associates to SHRM’s annual gathering, the Legal and Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. March 22-24 to find out. More than 650 people attended the conference from all 50 states and D.C., each having paid between $1200 and $1500 for the ticket.

“We’re not going to see successful efforts to mandate paid leave at the federal level,” Mike Aitken, SHRM’s Vice President for Government Affairs, told the assembled members at the conference.  Aitken briefly outlined a sophisticated, multi-state strategy for fighting paid leave and higher wages, and not only defunding the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – but suing in court to block its decisions. Aitken also alluded to SHRM’s use of member focus groups and questionnaires to form its policy positions. Though we were unable to locate any focus group or questionnaire results regarding policy positions, SHRM did this past week publish the results of a survey of its state legislative directors with questions about how engaged they are with SHRM. However, no actual SHRM members we spoke with said they have ever been contacted for their input on actual policy—and Aitken acknowledged that  “our Board is what shapes our policy positions.”1

Mike Aitken, SHRM VP for Government Affairs.

Mike Aitken, SHRM VP for Government Affairs.

Other presenters at the conference included employer-side labor lawyers and HR consultants, each delivering a message of “we’re not an anti-union organization, but…” with confidence and uniform consistency. Unlike organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the International Franchise Association(IFA) who co-sign and help to push SHRM’s anti-workers’ rights positions (who explicitly exist only to represent business interests), SHRM brings a grassroots base of HR professionals—people who are used to being peacemakers and finding compromises. In their regular professional practice, they are charged with complying with the law, rather than changing it to restrict the rights of employees. But SHRM tells members that it is also their job to pressure members of Congress and federal agencies to change the regulatory regime in favor of the largest employers.

The Chicken Little approach to “grassroots” anti-worker lobbying

How is SHRM selling its members the case for blocking employees’ rights, such as the right to earn paid sick leave and the right to choose a union? By telling them the sky is falling.

Lotito is now a shareholder in the employer-side labor law firm Littler Mendelson.  He gave a session at the conference entitled “The NLRB: New Relevance and New Challenges.”  During the session, his voice rising from a conspiratorial whisper to a roar of outrage, sermonizing on how a recent decision from the NLRB’s general counsel to treat McDonald’s franchisees as jointly liable with the headquarters could damage other businesses. He suggested that the joint-liability decision threatens the business-to-business relationships many companies have with their cleaning services, gardeners, and so forth, suggesting that any company could be viewed as somehow liable for the treatment of its subcontractors’ employees.

But the NLRB general counsel’s decision on joint liability narrowly applies only to cases brought by McDonald’s employees against the hamburger chain. As Steven Greenhouse recently reported in The New York Times, “’The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,’ said Micah Wissinger, a lawyer who filed complaints on behalf of several McDonald’s employees in New York. ‘The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.’”

Lotito, who co-chairs his law firm’s “Workplace Policy” subdivision, also criticized the NLRB’s recent decision to significantly shorten the 25-day window of time between when a union files for an election and when the election takes place. The new rule, which SHRM (echoing a US Chamber of Commerce talking point) dubs the “Ambush elections rule” in its printed policy statements and Powerpoint slides throughout the conference, goes into effect April 14.

Lotito’s old firm, Jackson Lewis, has made a lot of money advising employers on how to run an anti-union campaign during the existing 25 day window. As journalist David Bacon wrote in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2008:

“Campaign tactics include: In the weeks before these tainted elections, 51 percent of employers threaten to close if the union wins; and 91 percent force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with supervisors. This conduct is effectively unpunishable, making a mockery of free elections. Signing cards is a safer, calmer process that workers control themselves, and workers keep the option of using either the cards or the election – their choice, not their employer’s.”

SHRM is one of a handful of business lobby groups that is suing in federal court to block the rule’s implementation.2

Lotito explained that his firm also provided members of Congress with questions to use in a House Appropriations committee hearing the following day, March 24, on the NLRB’s budget. (You can watch that hearing here. Though we don’t know specifically which questions were provided by Littler, SHRM VP Mike Aitken told those at the conference that SHRM may attempt to fight the NLRB by adding a “rider to defund them through the appropriations process.” )

Having framed SHRM’s participation in the assault on workers’ rights as a matter of defending employers from onerous government regulations, Lotito was ready to unveil the Goliath that he says HR professionals should fear: unions. (He conveniently omitted the fact that unions now only represent just over 6% of the private sector workforce.) Again referring to the McDonald’s joint employer finding, Lotito explicitly named the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as the enemy:

“What I think is going to happen, what I would do if I were the SEIU, is on April 14th I would file 100 petitions in 20 different states against a whole bunch of franchisees alleging that there is a joint employment relationship between those franchisees and McDonald’s. I will win at least 50 percent of those elections and then I will demand… all kinds of information from McDonald’s Corp with respect to the underlying economics because they are the ones who are really controlling the purse strings with respect to the franchisee, so in order to have meaningful collective bargaining in theory I gotta have the franchisor with me, and I would use that as additional attack points. Or if I was really really really really tricky, on April 11th or 12th I’d go to McDonalds and say that on April 14th I’m going to file for elections, and as a result of that I’m going to bring your organization to a standstill. I’ve got an out for you though. I can be your best friend. I can tell everybody how great you are. All you have to do is agree to neutrality and card check…This is all about increasing union market share.”

Despite its studiously politically neutral and “we’re not anti-union” claims, SHRM has entered the public policy ring unmistakably on the side of big business and against workers’ rights. Whether its members accept its characterization of who the enemy is—and how many of them will unquestioningly sally forth to help block workers’ rights in the ongoing state and federal policy battles—remains to be seen.

End Notes

[1] SHRM’s website explains its process for determining policy positions thusly: “SHRM’s Government Affairs team partners with our Research Department to develop survey questions to take the pulse of the membership on what it feels about the issue.  Our Research Department may utilize the full SHRM Survey Report or a shorter Question of the Week format to obtain input from our members. In addition, Government Affairs staff gathers information by convening a series of public policy focus groups at the various SHRM national conferences, regional conferences and chapter meetings.

Once this input is gathered, staff develops a proposed public policy statement that is then subject to review by several SHRM Special Expertise panels who have jurisdiction over the subject area for their comment and review. The proposed public policy statement is then presented to the Board of Directors for its review and approval.”

[2] As economist Ross Eisenbrey noted in the Economic Policy Institute’s blog earlier this month, “The NLRB’s rule does away with an automatic 25-day delay between when employees file an election petition and the election occurs. The National Labor Relations Act does not mandate any such delay, but the anti-union lawyers treated it as a God-given right and claimed its elimination was ‘blowing up the election process’ and a denial of employer free speech rights. You’d think they were kidding, but they at least pretended to be serious.” In actual practice, the old rule has given employers enough time to harass, intimidate, and illegally fire workers involved in a unionization campaign, effectively lowering the number of union elections in US workplaces to 1453 in FY 2014– approximately two one-hundredths of a percent of all US workplaces.

Manufactured Emergency: The Neoliberal Assault on Michigan

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Those who want to privatize public services and destroy unions have made some successful incursions into the once union-friendly state. Whether Michiganders can mount an effective resistance remains to be seen.


**This article appears in PRA’s upcoming Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**


When Michigan Republicans decided to push through a so-called right-to-work bill in December 2012, schools in three districts were forced to close for a day because so many teachers went to the Capitol to protest. Several dozen protesters demonstrated in the Capitol Rotunda; nine were arrested.

Misnamed right-to-work laws make a certain type of agreement between a union and an employer illegal: union-represented employees may not be required to pay dues or near-equivalent “agency fees.” By law, the union is still obligated to represent non-paying workers as if they were members, which is why unions call the laws “right to freeload.” Since a certain portion of the workforce will take advantage of the chance to save a few bucks, these laws weaken unions financially—including their political operations—as well as breaking up solidarity. A weaker union has less clout to defend its members at the bargaining table or on the shop floor.

But right-to-work in Michigan was a done deal, signed into law by Governor Rick “The Nerd” Snyder just a week after it was introduced. Unions hastily bused demonstrators to Lansing, bringing the crowd to 10,000, but Snyder remained unmoved. After all, the previous year his counterpart in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, had ignored crowds of up to a hundred thousand who kept the state in turmoil for a month as they protested an anti-union bill.

A central goal of the neoliberal project is to weaken unions, and state legislation is one method. Unions are anathema in the free-market ideology, since they constrain employers’ liberty to operate exactly as they please. Unions also bargain higher wages and benefits and give employees some workplace rights not to be ordered about like indentured servants—thus cutting into potential profits, in the private sector.

A Midwestern Trend

Several Midwestern states have become laboratories for such neoliberal experiments. Wisconsin’s legislature passed a bill in 2011 that required state employees to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance—the equivalent of an eight to 12 percent pay cut in some cases—and eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees on everything except base wages; raises were in practice limited to the rate of inflation.

In Ohio, the legislature passed a measure that effectively took away collective bargaining rights from  state employees, including those in higher education, changed their pay structure, and required many of them to pay at least 20 percent of the cost of their health care plans.  (Ohio voters later overturned this bill in a hard-fought referendum.)

Indiana became the first Rust Belt state to take the right-to-work path, in February 2012, as thousands of unionists shouted their anger from the Statehouse hallways.

Michigan made use of an “emergency manager” law, which allowed the governor—citing any of a variety of triggers—to appoint an unelected overseer to run towns or cities. This included those whose budgets were in the red. These managers used their authority to tear up union contracts. Detroit’s takeover by an emergency manager, and its subsequent bankruptcy, had a similar effect, with city employees taking wage and pension cuts.

Still, Michigan’s sudden move to become the 24th right-to-work state rocked the labor movement nationwide. A birthplace of industrial unionism, Michigan still enjoyed a 16.6 percent unionization rate, the seventh-highest in the country. Its premier union, the United Auto Workers, was treated in the press as a major political player. And yet Michigan had joined the ranks of anti-union strongholds like Mississippi and Wyoming.

Too Divisive

How did right-to-work come about in the seemingly solid union state of Michigan? Governor Snyder had previously said it was too divisive and not on his political agenda. So, union members and supporters were shocked when the governor announced his change of heart. United Auto Workers (UAW) President Bob King, who had 151,000 members and 190,000 retirees in the state, said the governor’s about-face had “blindsided” him.

But the plan to make Michigan right-to-work was actually long brewing. With its record of voting for Democratic presidents, Michigan was a tempting target for such billionaire-funded national groups as Americans for Prosperity (founded by the Koch brothers) and for the state’s home-grown billionaire, Richard  DeVos of the Amway fortune. As Lee Fang reported for The Nation, Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan chapter quadrupled its spending in 2010, the year Snyder was elected, to $1.1 million. The Mackinac Center, a longtime right-wing think tank in the state, spent $5.7 million on Michigan-based advocacy in 2011. (DeVos is a funder of both groups.)

Mark Brewer, who was then the Michigan Democratic Party chair, dated the plotting for right to work to at least 2007. A video shows former Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser speaking to a Tea Party meeting in August 2012. Weiser, who was  finance chair of the Republican National Committee, described meeting with DeVos, former Michigan Governor John Engler (now with the Business Roundtable), representatives from Americans for Prosperity, and Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma which passed right-to-work in 2001. (The CEO of Oklahoma’s Chamber of Commerce had admitted he can’t name any companies that moved to Oklahoma because of right-to-work.  But that inconvenient fact, which holds true in other states as well, has not deterred the pro-right-to-work forces from claiming to be “job creators.”)

Weiser says the group decided not to move on right-to-work until Republicans controlled both the legislature and the governorship. Those elements were in place by January 2011, but in February the tumultuous uprising against anti-union measures kicked off in next-door Wisconsin, bringing tens of thousands of union members and progressives repeatedly to the Capitol, and demonstrations in cities and small towns across the country.

So Michigan’s neoliberal strategists instead pursued a piecemeal strategy: appointing emergency managers to run financially troubled cities and throw out union contracts; taking away the lifeline of teachers’ automatic union dues deductions; rescinding domestic partner benefits for public employees; defining university research assistants as non-workers; and a host of other measures designed not to rile everyone at once.

Proactive Strategy

To head off the possibility of right-to-work and to nullify all these laws that were interfering with collective bargaining, the UAW’s King and allied unions developed an offensive plan, to pass a constitutional amendment. Proposal 2, on the November 2012 ballot, would have made collective bargaining a constitutional right in the state.

But campaign leaders were reluctant to be specific about any particular laws that Proposal 2 would have outlawed, according to Mark O’Keefe, a staffer for the Detroit Federation of Teachers. O’Keefe said leaders were afraid that any specific was likely to offend someone. Meanwhile, Proposal 2 was opposed by every business interest in the state, some of whom mounted a $30 million disinformation campaign. This included ads from a front group called Citizens for Protecting Michigan’s Constitution claiming that the bill would prevent school districts from firing child molesters. Proposal 2 went down to defeat decisively, 57 to 42 percent.

Locked In

Because of an accident of timing, it’s still too soon to know how right-to-work will play out in Michigan’s largest private-sector contracts, the UAW’s pacts with the Big 3 automakers. The law doesn’t affect contracts already in place, and the Big 3’s won’t expire until September 2015.

UAW leaders, though they decried right-to-work, were oddly complacent about the prospect of losing a chunk of their union’s core members.   The UAW convention this summer—which took place as King retired– even voted to raise dues by 25 percent—surely a disincentive for wavering members to stay on board.

Teachers’ local unions took a different tack, quickly opening up existing contracts and bargaining new ones before right-to-work was due to take effect in March 2013. By signing new contracts under the old law, they locked in dues or the agency fee as a funding stream for the length of the new contracts. In most cases, though, those contracts were concession-filled, as management bargainers took advantage of leaders’ desperation.

A conservative think tank monitoring unions’ efforts to “dodge” right-to-work reported that at least 54 school districts signed contracts before the deadline. In Detroit, teachers signed a pay freeze through 2016—after already taking huge cuts in 2010 and 2011. In Taylor, a blue-collar suburb, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) locked in 10 years of agency fee and took a 10 percent pay cut.

Attack on Tenure

Perhaps the example that shows most clearly how the attack on unions fits with other neoliberal aims is at Detroit’s Wayne State University. Allan Gilmour, then-president of Wayne State (who had been a top officer at Ford Motor Co.), had made headlines a few months before right-to-work was passed, when he proposed that Wayne become among the first major U.S. universities to effectively end tenure. Allies of the union quickly got 6,000 signatures on an online petition, and Gilmour backed down.

But this set the stage for the university to take the offensive during contract negotiations. The union representing 1,950 full-time faculty bargained eight years of dues security but, said chief negotiator Anca Vlasopolos, “We had to make concessions to obtain the length of the contract.”

Decrying the “corporatization” hitting universities everywhere, Vlasopolos said the faculty union was forced to concede on issues that affected the quality of education at Wayne State. “We were not able to hold on as strongly to things that were very dear to our hearts and important for the university to remain a university,” she said.

In particular, under the pressure of settling before the deadline, the question of online teaching—where professors now have no say and may have as many as 350 students in a class—was put off to a committee.

“The aim of the corporate university is to become a diploma mill and rely on a large percentage of part-time teachers,” Vlasopolos said, while the union’s aim is to “make sure we don’t become a University of Phoenix.”

If unions in Michigan do end up substantially smaller, workers will have less bargaining power and therefore can expect even weaker contracts: lower wages, higher payments for health insurance, and less protection against workload increases. After Walker’s successful attack on public employees in Wisconsin, unions there were caught in a vicious spiral: with unions’ right to bargain eviscerated, workers could see less reason to pay dues. As members dropped out in droves, the unions’ infrastructure was weakened and they could do far less to make themselves relevant. Said John Matthews, longtime leader of the Madison teachers’ local: “working conditions have been rolled back to the mid-1950s by some regressive public employers.”

At the Michigan unions’ 2012 anti-right-to-work rally, Teamsters President James Hoffa, who is from the state, admitted that the way back for unions will be a long fight. The slide down has been long, too, but it’s accelerating.

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References   [ + ]

1, 2, 3, 4. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Neoliberal Feminists Don’t Want Women to Organize

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Lean any way you want; the view from the bottom of the economic system doesn’t change.


**This article appears in PRA’s upcoming Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**

To say that Sheryl Sandberg ruined my life would be to make the same mistake that Sandberg herself makes—it would be to assume that the successes or failures of an individual woman, feminist or no, equal the successes or failures of feminism.

Nevertheless, writing about feminism and the workplace in the shadow of Lean In has been a task in itself. One must, it often seems, either define oneself as for or against Sandberg. Critique of her was critique of feminism, at least for the heady months around her book’s publication when well-known feminists felt compelled to take sides.

Sandberg is not herself the problem, but she exemplifies it in a way that has been instructive. When Jill Abramson was fired from her position as executive editor at the New York Times, reportedly after she confronted the paper’s publisher over her discovery that her pay was less than that of her (male) predecessor, among the many outraged reactions from feminists was the response that leaning in doesn’t work after all. Abramson’s experience, similar to that of so many women, seemed a rebuke to the idea, promoted in Sandberg’s book, that individual women were holding themselves back. It reminded us that no matter how hard we try, sexism—sexism in the workplace—cannot be defeated individual success story by individual success story.

One of the insidious things about neoliberalism is how it has managed to absorb our vibrant, multifaceted liberation struggles into itself and spit them back out to us as monotone (dollar-bill-green) self-actualization narratives. The way this has happened to feminism is particularly instructive. As I wrote in Dissent last winter, the so-called “second wave” of feminism fought for women to gain access to work outside of the home and outside of the “pink-collar” fields. Yet in doing so, as Barbara Ehrenreich has written, some feminists wound up abandoning the fight for better conditions in what had always been considered women’s work—whether that be as teachers and nurses, or the work done in the home for little or no pay.

National Domestic Workers Alliance members protest

National Domestic Workers Alliance members protest

In fact, the flight of middle-class women into the paid workplace left other women, namely domestic workers, cleaning up the mess left behind, and many of those middle-class women seemed unwilling to deal with the fact that they too, sometimes, could oppress. As Ehrenreich wrote in “Maid to Order,” a piece published in the anthology, Global Woman, which she co-edited with Arlie Russell Hochschild, “To make a mess that another person will have to deal with—the dropped socks, the toothpaste sprayed on the bathroom mirror, the dirty dishes left from a late-night snack—is to exert domination in one of its more silent and intimate forms.”

While some women have experienced the workplace as a site of liberation and increased power, for many others, the workplace was never a choice. Particularly for women of color, whose domestic work was excluded intentionally from New Deal-era labor laws, the workplace was and remains a site of oppression. And to this day, women remain concentrated in the economy’s lowest-paying jobs—some two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and three of the fastest-growing occupations in the country are retail sales, food service, and home health care, which are both low-wage and female-dominated jobs. Home health care workers, in many ways the face of the new service economy, were just ruled only “partial” public employees by the right-wing Roberts Supreme Court. More than 90 percent of them, according to the Economic Policy Institute, are female.

Those are jobs at which, no matter how hard one leans in, the view doesn’t change.

And these days, the conditions for more and more workers are beginning to resemble those at the bottom; fleeing the female-dominated workplace, rather than improving it, has left middle-class women more, not less, vulnerable. The devaluation of work that involves care, work for which women were assumed to be innately suited, continued apace when feminism turned its back. As other jobs have disappeared, the low wages that were acceptable when women were presumed not to need a “family wage,” because they ought to be married to a man who’d do the breadwinning, became the wages that everyone has to take or leave.

Though the movement for paid sick leave has gained some important wins in recent months and years, alongside a growing movement to raise the minimum wage, a more expansive family policy that would actually allow more than a few days’ paid leave or allow workers more control over their own schedules remains a pipe dream.

Equal pay for equal work means little when the wages for all are on the way down. You would be hard pressed to find a self-proclaimed feminist, even of the most neoliberal variety, who doesn’t argue in favor of equal pay, but this focus has often served, as I have argued, to stifle discussion of other concerns in the workplace. As Marilyn Sneiderman, lifelong labor organizer and director of the New Labor Center at Rutgers University, told me for Dissent, the fight for fair pay might seem an individual struggle for high-end workers like Abramson, but for a hotel housekeeper, a nurse, a janitor, the best way to improve your job isn’t to get promoted through the ranks, but to organize with your fellow workers.

Neoliberal feminism is a feminism that ignores class as a determining issue in women’s lives. It presumes, as Tressie McMillan Cottom pointed out in an article on her personal website, that giving power to some women will automatically wind up trickling if not power, than at least some lifestyle improvements down to women with less power.

This applies internationally as well as domestically. Nancy Fraser, in her book Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis, cites Hester Eisenstein’s argument that feminism has entered into a “dangerous liaison” with neoliberalism, embracing critiques of the state and men’s economic power that allowed for deregulation. Fraser sees neoliberal feminism embracing a pro-globalization mentality that regards women in the developing world as in need of “saving” by enlightened Western feminists.

Take Somaly Mam, the Cambodian NGO entrepreneur who built her career on her own fraudulent tale of being sex trafficked as a child. Westerners flocked to her story and her cause, joining her on trips to “save” women from brothels. Sheryl Sandberg was on the board of her foundation, alongside Susan Sarandon. Hillary Clinton was a fan. Mam’s rise to fame dovetailed with the rise, across the U.S., of an obsession with “saving” sex workers and increasing criminal penalties for sex trafficking.

Her fame attracted prominent feminists to a cause that continues, as Melissa Gira Grant writes in her book Playing the Whore, to be supported by the Religious Right and to criminalize women who are trying to make ends meet any way they can. Yet the solutions offered to the women saved by Mam’s organization (currently undergoing a name change after Newsweek published its expose of Mam’s fabrications) were mostly low-wage sweatshop jobs producing clothing for Western consumption. As Anne Elizabeth Moore, who has spent years working in and reporting on Cambodia, writes in Salon of Mam’s organization and others like hers, “What they do is normalize existent labor opportunities for women, however low the pay, dangerous the conditions, or abusive an environment they may be. And they shame women who reject such jobs.”

This is neoliberal feminism at its finest. As Gira Grant writes, the idea that women in Cambodia—or in the United States—can organize themselves and change their working conditions is almost always absent from the conversation.

Selma James, one of the founders of the 1970s Wages for Housework movement and a leader in the Global Women’s Strike, criticized how some feminists turned grassroots organizing projects into “jobs for the girls” as a way for some women to have power by creating mechanisms to save others. In today’s political climate, we must be wary of claims that feminism is best served by increasing the power of individual (white, middle-class) women, and question over whom they exercise that power. We must understand the difference between power for a few and a real change in how power affects us all.

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The Attack on Unions

Right-Wing Politics and Democratic Possibilities

Boston demonstrators support Wisconsin public employees, February 2011 (©Ellen Shub)

Boston demonstrators support Wisconsin public employees, February 2011 (©Ellen Shub)

The November 2010 Republican Sweep

More than a million people watched on Youtube as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sneered at a public school teacher who had the temerity to ask him at a September 2010 town meeting how his policies would help the middle class when so many teachers had been laid off.1 His response? He wasn’t to blame—union chiefs forced the layoffs and were responsible. Young conservatives cheered his take-no-prisoners style, though only a few months later, Christie’s high approval ratings, particularly among women, tanked.2

Still, the voucher-loving, tax-hating governor seemed to show free-market conservatives what they could do once they were in charge: how deeply they could cut government, and how successfully they could go after union “bosses,” even with a Democratic legislature. Elected only in 2009, Christie quickly became an inspiration for the Right, as he went full throttle in blaming unions for the grossly underfunded state pension system and the $11 billion deficit he inherited.

Sidebar: States Where Labor is Under Attack
The 22 Right-to-Work states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.

The 16 states challenging public-sector unions’ collective bargaining rights: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington.

After the midterm elections of November 2010, he had a lot of company in statehouses across the nation. Aided by a potent, antilabor alignment of grassroots groups, legislators, and conservative institutions, Republicans enjoyed a sweep of state legislatures not seen since 1928. Twenty states now have both Republican-dominated legislatures and Republican governors, in contrast to the previous session, when only eight states were all GOP.3 Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine flipped from totally Democratic to totally Republican, and all three governors are aggressively anti-union.4 Tea Party-supported Republicans now occupy top leadership spots in Maine and other northern states. With the help of independents, the Republican base elected businessmen such as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who campaigned as a moderate, and Florida Governor Rick Scott, who carried their anti-union views from the private sector into office.

And here’s a key point: these new Republicans are ideologically more conservative than those who came before them. Prolabor Republicans—and there still are some—have been picked off, year by year, in primary challenges. The Tea Party insurgency, backed by right-to-work and other corporate money, added rocket fuel to the trend, as primary voters ejected those they deemed RINOs—Republicans in Name Only.

What’s at stake is more than the livelihoods of union members. These conservatives want government to operate on a “business model” that dismantles public education, privatizes government functions—leaving retirees to fend for themselves, among other things—and abolishes collective bargaining, the right of workers to negotiate as a group over the conditions of their work. Unions are a right-wing target because they form a bulwark against such privatization, and they and their members fight against a winner-takes-all economy that leaves less and less for the poorer 98 percent. Using language right out of the right-wing populist playbook, conservatives smear public-sector unionists in particular as “elite” workers enjoying “special privileges”—which their “good government” reforms will eliminate.

The usual deep-pocketed suspects were involved in the Republican sweep and the anti-union policies that followed: wealthy conservatives like the Koch brothers, who funded the campaigns of some governors, such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, directly and others indirectly with a $1 million-plus donation to the Republican Governors’ Association; political action committees (PACs), like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, which channel millions from wealthy donors to political campaigns; and business lobbies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the free market Club for Growth.5

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie quickly became an inspiration for the Right, as he went full throttle in blaming unions for the grossly underfunded state pension system.

While unions later complained that the candidates ran stealth campaigns, keeping mum about their anti-union politics, plenty of candidates and groups were perfectly frank. Virginia Governor-elect Bob McDonnell maintained while campaigning, “The secret to success in Virginia is this—you keep taxes, regulation and litigation low and you keep strong Right to Work laws, and if you do that, the free enterprise system will thrive.”6 The so-called right-to-work laws to which he’s referring allow workers benefitting from union bargaining units to refuse to join the union or pay union dues. In Indiana alone, crowed the National Right to Work Committee, local and “national Right to Work organizations sent out roughly 278,000 pieces of targeted mail identifying the forced-unionism positions of state legislative incumbents and challengers.”7 [italics in the original].

As soon as the election was over, the union-busters got busy. In Indiana, a right-to-work bill was submitted on the very first day of the legislative session—though the National Right to Work Committee was soon sputtering that the state’s Republican Governor Mitch Daniels wasn’t doing anything to enact it. New Hampshire’s Republican legislators passed right-to-work bills in February and April, but without a veto-proof majority they faced a skeptical Democratic governor. Missouri’s divided Republican legislature tried but failed to pass right-to-work legislation.

The antilabor legislation isn’t limited to right-to-work bills. Also introduced into state legislatures were bills repealing project labor agreements—requirements that contractors on publicly funded projects be guided by collective bargaining agreements with unions laying out the terms of work—and prevailing wage laws, requiring contractors on such projects to pay their workers what are essentially union rates. These laws, which benefit construction unions, help set standards of work and keep all wages from spiraling down. Idaho’s new law banning project labor agreements is now snarled in the courts. But the main battlegrounds are the heavily union states in the North, including Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, as well as not-so-union states like New Hampshire, and Maine.8 Important fights are taking place in Florida and Tennessee, too. According to the AFL-CIO, 26 states are on the firing line over prevailing-wage laws. The Wall Street Journal called the state legislative sessions that ended in May and June test runs for battles this year.9

Collective Bargaining Challenged

After the Republican sweep, public-sector workers braced themselves for struggles in nineteen states, mostly in the Midwest, over their ability to bargain as a group over wages and benefits. The media turned its attention to this issue during the uproar in Wisconsin in January and February, when Democratic legislators fled the state rather than give newly elected Governor Scott Walker the quorum he needed to pass legislation curtailing the collective-bargaining rights of public-sector unions, barring state and municipal governments from collecting dues for unions, and requiring annual recertification elections for unions. Standoffs between Tea Party activists and union supporters became the paradigmatic media images of the season.10 After weeks of prolabor demonstrations by teachers, unionists from the private sector, public-sector workers, and progressives, the Republican-dominated legislature used procedural manipulations to pass the limitations—only to find them snarled in court battles. The law finally took effect in late June even as pro-union activists campaigned to recall the senators who voted in favor of it; they need to get rid of just three of the eight Republicans they are targeting to regain control of the state senate in elections scheduled for early August.

Also facing a fall recall vote because of his support for antilabor legislation is Michigan Governor Snyder, whom progressives hold accountable for a so-called emergency financial managers law, under which the state is consolidating municipalities, bypassing elected officials, and appointing “crisis managers” who have the power to rip up contracts and end collective bargaining in school districts.11 The majority-Black town of Benton Harbor and Detroit’s school system are Snyder’s test cases. This law too sparked a lawsuit and a recall campaign of the governor and some legislators, with 800,000 signatures needed by August 5.12

Twenty states now have both Republican dominated legislatures and Republican governors, in contrast to the previous session, when only eight states were all GOP.

Although it attracted far less national attention, on April 1, Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich signed a law, SB5, that imposes limits on collective bargaining even broader than Wisconsin’s. SB5 includes police and firefighters’ unions, which Walker left out. Like the Wisconsin law, SB5 bans strikes and allows the negotiation only of wages, not of benefits such as health insurance, sick time, or pensions. It also eliminates automatic pay increases in favor of merit raises. Ohio, the birthplace of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the site of the rubber and steel strikes that launched the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), is now ground zero in the counterattack. Union radicals there have pulled together in a new, national Emergency Labor Network,13 while locally, Ohio unions and their allies collected a record number of signatures, almost 1.3 million, to force a referendum on November 8 to repeal SB5. The successful petition drive put the law on hold until after the vote.14

Why the Right Opposes Unions

While unions and their supporters are waging a vigorous counterattack, there is no denying that the Republican takeover of the states was a hard-fought victory for three overlapping, antilabor elements of the free-market Right:

  1. Corporate-minded conservatives such as the Koch brothers, the National Right to Work Committee, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They hate unions because they view profits as rightfully belonging to business owners and see union demands for wage and benefit hikes as extortion. They want total control over working conditions, wages, and benefits, because their main goal is raising the bottom line.
  2. Moralists, seen most vividly at Tea Party rallies. Because of their vision of rugged individualism, they oppose any collective endeavor—whether by unions or by government—in the name of the common good. They pit virtuous taxpayers against “taxeaters” and deride unionism as a form of authoritarian socialism imported straight from the Soviet Union. FOX News broadcaster Glenn Beck played a big role popularizing this vision, which was once confined to marginal Patriot movement activists and the far Right.
  3. Technocratic conservatism, associated with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, think tanks like the Cato and Manhattan Institutes, and state legislators organized through the nonprofit American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These groups claim—contrary to the evidence—that “limited government” works better than a regulatory, social-welfare state in creating jobs, building the incomes of everyday people, and enriching the middle class.15 For the technocrats, unions are bad because they are “job killers” in the private sector and demand inefficient costs in the public sector.16 They see private businesses as the prototype for how public institutions should run and push for the privatization of government services, most notably schools.17

Anti-Union Rhetoric, New and Old

The billionaire Koch brothers fund all three anti-union manifestations with their petrochemical fortune: the corporate conservatives through the Heritage Foundation, Cato, and Manhattan Institutes, as well as the lesser known Mercatus Center at George Mason University; the moralist-eclectic Tea Partiers through Americans for Prosperity; and the technocrats through ALEC and campaign donations to politicians such as Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

The brothers are important players, but they have the backing of a longstanding, deep bench. The free-market notions that unions kill jobs and are bad for the economy have been promoted for decades by other right-wing funders, such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Wilson Family Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Castle Rock Foundation. After World War II, as some corporations made an uneasy truce with their workers, corporate-funded groups such as the National Right to Work Committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce led the charge.18 More recently, these powerhouses have been joined by the public relations expert Rick Berman, whose firm is notable for setting up antilabor and anti-environmental front groups, with names like the Center for Union Facts and the Employee Freedom Action Committee, to flog his clients’ messages.19 The convergence of the economic crisis, underfunded public pensions, and the Tea Party insurgency has created the moment they’ve all been waiting for.

Conservatives want government to operate on a “business model” that dismantles public education, privatizes government functions, and abolishes collective bargaining.

The long-established anti-union message presented by the think tanks and corporate-funded advocates has four elements:

  1. Union leaders are undemocratic thugs.
  2. Unions restrict individual choice.
  3. Union workers are unproductive.
  4. Unions interrupt the law of supply and demand by setting wages, thereby undermining free enterprise.

According to this reasoning, unions are both immoral and damaging to business and the economy. Weakening unions will jumpstart wage growth during the recession, argues the National Right to Work Committee: “Right to Work and Lower Taxes appear to deliver a one-two punch in states’ fights against unemployment and personal income decline. In fact,” the committee claims, referring to Florida, Virginia, and Tennessee, “Right To Work states lead in economic prosperity and personal income growth.”20

Tea Party candidates and their supporters have picked up on the venerable rhetoric about unions as Communist threats that would create a big government unsupportable by the tax base. Like Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican Party’s point man on privatizing government functions such as Social Security and Medicare, the new Republicans feel no need to compromise on their embrace of the free-market mantra. To them, individuals who band together to negotiate their wages and working conditions are destroying not only businesses’ ability to create jobs but the entire moral order. Ryan says, “The attack on democratic capitalism, on individualism and freedom in America, is an attack on the moral foundation of America.”21 This kind of thinking is emotionally supported by a belief system known as “producerism,” in which the middle class feels that its hard work is exploited by the lazy rich above it and the freeloading poor below.22

In contrast to this extreme individualism, unions point out that theirs are democratic institutions that enable workers to fight exploitation, improve working conditions, protect wages, and win social reforms like the forty-hour work week, which benefit all workers. Union participation in corporate governance can actually democratize enterprises. Of course, like all democratic institutions, unions need oversight and accountability, so that officers who exploit their power don’t get away with it. But conservative media such as the New York Post and Rick Berman’s websites feature corrupt union officials to signal that any collective action is illegitimate.

The Right-Wing’s Antilabor Strategists

In good technocratic fashion, in early March 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a comprehensive blueprint for reversing proworker rules at the state level in order, it said, to create jobs. Its proposals include reducing state and local minimum and living-wage requirements when these exceed the federal levels; cutting the length and rates of unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation; reducing leave, rest, and overtime levels that exceed the federal minimums; promoting right-to-work laws; and banning the payment of unemployment benefits to locked out workers.23 The liberal think tank the Economic Policy Institute points out that in the decade after Oklahoma became a right-to-work state in 2001, its unemployment rate differed little from its neighbors.24 Nevertheless, a chamber press release insisted that its plan for “streamlining government” would create “746,462 net new jobs nationwide.” Such unfounded claims are enticing stuff for a nation in the midst of a recession.

The chamber is aided in its antilabor push by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization claiming as members “more than 2,000” state lawmakers who say they want limited government, as well as a so-called Private Enterprise Board with representatives from major U.S. corporations, including Exxon Mobil, WalMart, and Coca Cola.25 ALEC teams legislators with member-lobbyists to craft model legislation such as right-to-work laws, and laws repealing minimum-wage hikes and prevailing-wage requirements.26 ALEC teams also promote so-called paycheck-protection laws; called “paycheck deception” by unions and sought for decades by their opponents, these laws require explicit consent from union members before their dues can be directed toward political activities.27 Arizona passed such a law in its last session.28 And across the country, powered by a network of legislators organized by ALEC, states are seeking, in the name of austerity, to follow Utah, which shifted its public workers out of traditional, defined-benefit pensions, in which retirees receive a predictable amount each month, to 401(k)-style, defined-contribution plans, in which workers invest in funds directly and receive whatever the market is paying at the moment.

Why Attack Public-Sector Workers?

The attack on unions is old hat. New, however, are the number of Republican-dominated legislatures giving anti-union bills a chance of passage; the Tea Party, which gives the sentiment a popular base; the new politics of austerity created by the Right to engage with the economic crisis; and the attack on public-sector unions, in particular.

The usual suspects do not seem to have crafted the most potent justifications for the latest attack on the public-sector unions. ALEC, the Chamber of Commerce, and the National Right to Work Committee have not traditionally distinguished between types of unions. Republicans had been gun-shy about going after public-sector unions after a 2005 California ballot initiative curbing the unions’ use of dues for politics was roundly defeated (although in the same year, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels met with success when he bypassed the legislature and removed state workers’ collective bargaining rights with an executive order ).29 In January 2010, the Heritage Foundation had merely called on government to “reject union calls for higher taxes [and] reject proposals to increase union membership in the government.” Freedom Works, the beltway group through which former House Majority Leader Dick Armey mobilizes Tea Partiers, has long attacked teachers’ unions in its effort to dismantle public schools. But even it only launched a broad campaign against public-sector unions in March.

A major push seems to have come from local Tea Party tax protesters, notably in California, regional think tanks like the free-market Manhattan Institute and California’s Pacific Research Institute, and Republican politicians and strategists like Christie. (see box) The underfunding of some state pensions and a few large payouts to retirees gave conservatives a big bat with which to beat public sector unions. The Republican Governors Association gathering in San Diego in November 2010, right after the election, was abuzz with Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker’s campaign remark, “We cannot and should not maintain a system where public employees are the ‘haves’ and the taxpayers footing the bill are the ‘have-nots.’”30 Public-sector unions were becoming a political football.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich, the son of a public-sector worker himself, as he distinguished between public- and private-sector unions: “With organized labor, look, the public-employee unions, particularly the teachers union, you know how I feel about them,” Kasich said. (He doesn’t like them.) “But for the unions that make things, I’m going to sit down with them. And I’ll tell you what, they’re going to become part of the solution, not part of this problem.” Similarly, on the FOX News Hannity program, the conservative shock-pundit Ann Coulter distinguished between “steelworkers who should have unions” and public-sector workers, who shouldn’t.31

Free-market notions that unions kill jobs and are bad for the economy have been promoted for decades by right-wing funders.

In a backgrounder on public-sector unions published on September 1, close to the elections,32 the Heritage Foundation now implied that private sector unions are legitimate while “government unions”—a phrase promoted by the Republican pollster Frank Luntz because it polls badly—are not. “Collective bargaining by unions takes place very differently in government than it does in the private sector,” wrote Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics James Sherk.

Private-sector unions have competitors and bargain over the profits they help create. The government earns no profits. Government unions have a legal monopoly and bargain for a greater share of tax dollars. Collective bargaining in government means that voters’ elected representatives must agree on tax and spending decisions with union representatives. Collective bargaining also politicizes the civil service. Government unions negotiate contract provisions that force workers to join and subsidize their fundraising. These subsidies have made them the top political spenders in the country. They use that money to lobby for higher taxes and protect their inflated compensation.33

Over at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Glenn Spencer, head of the Workforce Freedom Initiative, put it this way: “Public-sector unions have a guaranteed source of revenue—you and me as taxpayers.”34

Attacks on public-sector workers, like attacks on “tax-cheating” welfare queens in the past, give the debate a (sometimes unconscious) racist tinge, since public-sector workers are disproportionately people of color.35 Census data shows that African Americans are “thirty percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector,” says Steven Pitts, a labor policy specialist at the University of California Berkeley Labor Center; indeed, he argues that public employment helped create the Black middle class.36

In attacking public-sector unions and their contributions to political campaigns, the Right presents itself as a good-government champion with a simple message: unions are bad for government. Karl Rove’s Government Union Reform Action Center, which operates out of Crossroads GPS, champions Christie as a good-government hero for issuing an executive order barring public-employee unions from lobbying the politicians they bargain with. Crossroads GPS itself is promoting the GOP’s Public Employee Pension Transparency Act, which would require states to use a different method for calculating how large pension holdings should be—one that would make the state-pension crisis seem even worse.

Labor Fights Back

In mid-February, at the Washington, D.C., Marriott Hotel, representatives from the National Right to Work Committee, the Heritage Foundation, and other enterprises eager to destroy labor were busy setting up booths for the Conservative Political Action Conference. Youngsters in dark suits created displays of reading material about the free market.

At the same time, in a nearby ballroom, 600 United Steel Worker activists were discussing ways to fight state efforts to weaken both public- and private-sector unions. United Steel Workers International President Leo Gerard offered brilliant schooling in popular economics: trade policy, Chinese currency, tax policy, the financial sector—you name it. He was giving his troops ideological weapons for the fight of their lives. “The rich took the anger of our people and turned it against them [in the Tea Party],” he said. “We have a responsibility to invite you into the battle. And you have a responsibility to get in.”

“We lost 100,000 members in the economic collapse,” added International Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson. “They’re not here because they can’t be.” And things will get worse, he warned. “Best guess,” Johnson told his audience, “twenty percent of the union will leave under Right to Work. It will destroy the finances of your local union, and the national, and impede our ability to fight.” Wages are much lower in the country’s 22 right-to-work states, where unions don’t have the power to bargain up the rates, than in others—an average of $5,538 lower, to be exact, said Gerard. So, the fight is not just for union members but for all workers.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter distinguishes between “steelworkers who should have unions” and public-sector workers, who shouldn’t.

The Steel Workers are well-aware that some of their neighbors soak in FOX News and its anti-union messages.37 The unions’ defense of “big-government” programs makes them targets of the Tea Party, as well as of their traditional corporate adversaries. In a state breakout session, one regional leader said, “We’re the coaches, we’re the choir directors. We have to show what the union dollar does for the community. When we make 28 percent more a week, we spend more money in our community … Let people know we’re working to protect Social Security.” The Steel Worker leadership, along with that of the AFL-CIO, takes it for granted that unions have a responsibility to fight for laws that regulate wages and hours, and benefits such as Medicare and Social Security, which help everyone. “If they disable us, and we never get a pay increase, what’s it going to do for the nonunion people?” the regional leader said. “This is one of the things we can tell the nonunion people.”

The Steel Workers and other industrial unions are determined that the Right will not succeed in dividing them from their public-sector brothers and sisters. A few weeks after the Washington meeting, in the midst of the labor uprising in Wisconsin, Gerard addressed a rally at Steel Worker Union headquarters in Pittsburgh: “The recent wave of attacks on public employees is not the fault of the workers but the result of giving enormous tax breaks to the rich and the ultra-rich,” he said. “Public-sector unions are being vilified, used as the scapegoats as budget shortfalls are, pure and simple, being used as political fodder to turn Americans against organized labor.”38

Polls show that many Americans agree with him. A March 2011 national Bloomberg survey found that 63 percent of respondents “don’t think states should be able to break their promises to retirees.” Respondents split over whether governors truly “aim to balance their budgets or weaken unions that back Democratic foes.” Seventy-two percent view public employees favorably, and about half say that “governors are unfairly targeting unions.”39

Yet conservatives had reason to believe their attacks on unions would go over well. Even in the Bloomberg poll, pro-union sentiment outpolled anti-union sentiment by only nine points, 49 to 40 percent. Americans’ support for unions started drifting downward in 2007 as the National Right to Work Committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent tens of millions of dollars on anti-union ads, in a successful effort to defeat federal legislation that would have made union organizing easier.40 The advertisements brought the anti-union messages that the Right usually pumps out to its supporters to the general public, as well as to workers targeted by organizing campaigns. The propaganda becomes more effective as union density shrinks; only twelve percent of Americans now belong to unions. Fewer and fewer people know anything about unions first hand, or even know someone in a union. The idea that unions fight for a living wage and rights for all workers is almost wholly unknown.

The outlook is not completely bleak, however. Prolabor Republicans have slowed the sweep in Florida, where the governor was unable to bar automatic payroll deduction of dues by public sector unions; in Colorado, where a bill failed that would have ratified a four-year-old executive order barring collective bargaining by public sector unions; and in Missouri, where Republican legislators questioned whether a right-to-work push would really create jobs.41

“The recent wave of attacks on public employees is not the fault of the workers but the result of giving enormous tax breaks to the rich and the ultrarich.”

Shrinking unions have learned that they can’t win this fight alone, and are strengthening their relationships with small-business, women’s, immigrant-rights, Black, and Latino groups. As inequality worsens, and obscene Wall Street paydays get more attention even as unemployment festers, they propose a moral vision, calling for Americans to build a more egalitarian nation. Groups such as Interfaith Worker Justice provide platforms where people can ask fundamental questions about how the economy works, why Americans don’t talk about class, why big companies don’t pay taxes, and why the top one percent are the only ones who are doing better. By tying moral insights together with technical knowledge about how an egalitarian economy would work, and how fair labor and tax rules would be structured, unions and the Left can regain momentum and remake our world.


“The Trouble with Public Sector Unions”

[div class=”foot-notes”]


1 “Governor Christie Responds to Teacher During Town Hall,” September 8, 2010.

2 Victor Lee, “Who is Chris Christie? Why is he the new patron saint of Conservatism?”, February 28, 2010. Huey-Burns, “Chris Christie’s Approval Rating Hits New Low,”, June 21, 2011.

3 Josh Goodman,” Republicans win most legislative seats in generations,”, November 3, 2010.

4 Pew Center on the States, http://www.stateline.orgNote Pew viewed Michigan’s Snyder as a moderate in his race against the union-backed Democrat. Melissa Maynard, “Moderate Republican candidate swims against party tide in Michigan,”, October 4, 2010.

5 Justin Elliot, “Billionaires give 91 percent of funds for Rove-tied group,” Salon,
20 September 2010.

6 Dr. Frank Lutz, “Election Advertising: Lessons of 2010,” The Word Doctors, p. 3.

7 “Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels Sabotages Right to Work Law, National Right to Work Committee, May 1, 2011.

8 “Union Density in the United States, 2010,” The Center of Labor Education and Research,

9 Kris Maher and Amy Merrick, “Bills Try to Curb the Reach of Unions,” Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2011.

10 Tea party activists blog about union thugs, for instance here, and here Unionists complain the handful of tea party protestors wins the media attention, not their much larger ranks.

11 Sarah Jaffe, “Shock Doctrine: ‘Emergency Finance Managers’ and the Right-Wing’s Power Grab,” Alternet, June 26, 2011.’emergency_finance_managers’_and_the_right-wing’s_power_grab?page=entire

12 “Gov. Snyder Recall Petition Language Approved,”, April 18, 2011.

13 Emergency Labor Network,

14 Jim Provance, “Record 1.3 Million Back Vote to Torpedo SB5,” Toledo Blade, June 30, 2011.

15 An excellent resource tracking how rightwing think tanks promote free market economic theories that even conservative academics can’t stomach is Jonathan Chait’s THE BIG CON: The true story of how Washington got hoodwinked and hijacked by crackpot economics (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007). James Galbraith is a liberal academic who shows the fallacy of “free market” theories in The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too (New York: The New Press, 2008). Dollars and Sense magazine and New Deal 2.0, a blog of the Roosevelt Institute, are forums for a range of academics thinking about how government and the economy shape one another. More popular resources include Paul Krugman’s NY Times column and Joshua Holland’s The Fifteen Biggest Lies about the Economy: And Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs, and Corporate America.

16 is a one stop source for op eds written by the technocrats.

17 Larry Cuban, The Blackboard and the Bottom Line: Why Schools Can’t Be Businesses (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004); Diane Ravitch, “The Myth of Charter Schools,” New York Review of Books, November 11, 2010.

18 Nelson Lichtenstein, “The Long History of Labor Bashing,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 6, 2011.



21 For a brilliant and brief take on this, see Frederick Clarkson and Frank Cocozzelli, “The Randian Fault That Could Shake Conservatism,”, May 2, 2011.

22 Kim Phillips-Fein tracks how big business regrouped around this argument after World War II in Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York: Norton, 2009).

23 “The Impact of State Employment Policies on Job Growth: A 50-State Review, ” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, March 2, 2011. “U.S Chamber Study Shows States Could Create Nearly 750,000 Jobs and 50,000 New Business By Streamlining Government Regulation,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, March 2, 2011. 

25Gordon Lafer and Sylvia A. Allegretto, “Does ‘right-to-work’ create jobs? Answers from Oklahoma,” Economic Policy Institute, February 28, 2011.

26 “About,” American Legislative Exchange Council.  “Private Enterprise Board Members, as of December 2010”

26 The Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Committee circulates these bills, listed on ALEC’s website.

27 Beau Hodai, “PublicopolyExposed,” In These Times, July 11, 2011.

28 The Transport Workers Union offered a handy summary of bills passed and not passed in the spring.

29 “Steven Nelson, “Indiana’s labor fight similar to, but different from Wisconsin’s, ”The Daily Caller, February 23, 2011.

30 Tony Perry, “Republican Governors Take Aim at Teachers Unions, Other Public Employee Unions,” LA Times, November 18, 2010.

31 You can find the clip from March 9, 2011 on

32 James Sherk, “The New Face of the Union Movement: Government Employees, ”Heritage Foundation, September 1, 2010, An American Enterprise Institute scholar argued unions were too weak to diminish free market dynamics,

33 James Sherk, “Time to Restore Voter Control: End the Government-Union
Monopoly,” Heritage Foundation, February 25, 2011. Over at the Heritage Foundation, visiting fellow Jonah Goldberg laid out the same argument. Jonah Goldberg, “Public Unions Must Go,” Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2011.

34 Brody Mullins and John D. McKinnon, “Campaign’s Big Spender,” Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2010.

35 Randy Albelda, “Teachers, Secretaries and Social Workers: The New Welfare Moms?” Dollars and Sense, May/June 2011.

36 Steven Pitts, “Black Workers and the Public Sector,” UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, April 4, 2011.

37 Tracked daily by .

38 “Saving the Middle Class: Hundreds Rally at USW Headquarters for Workers in Wisconsin, Country,”, February 24, 2010.

39 “William Solway, “Americans Oppose Republican Attack on Unions in Poll Divided Over Benefits,” Bloomberg, March 9, 2011.

40 “Favorability Ratings of Labor Unions Fall Sharply,” Pew Research Center for People and the Press, February 23, 2010,; Abby Scher, “Still Looking for the Union Label: A Making Contact Radio Investigation,” September 2, 2009.

41 David A. Lieb, “Efforts to curtail private-sector unions faltering,” Associated Press, May 9, 2011; ; Mary Ellen Klas, “Senators reject Rick Scott’s pitch to fight unions,” Miami Herald, April 27, 2011.