Law and Politics

Republican Platform Takes Aim at Labor

July 21, 2016
By Steven Wishnia

Cleveland, Ohio—The Republican Party’s 2016 platform, adopted July 18, complains that under President Barack Obama, wages are “stagnant” and “people living paycheck to paycheck are struggling, sacrificing, and suffering.” To change this, it urges lower wages for workers on federal construction projects, legislation to weaken labor unions and regulations such as overtime pay, and, indirectly, the repeal of the federal minimum wage.

The platform’s main section on labor issues is entitled “Workplace Freedom for a 21st Century Workforce.” Along with creating jobs, it says, that “impels us to challenge the anachronistic labor laws that limit workers’ freedom and lock them into the workplace rules of their great-grandfathers.” The party’s intention, it adds, is “bringing labor law into the 21st century.”

That vision might look more like the labor law of the 19th century. The platform states that the “minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.” This would have the practical effect of lowering the minimum in as many as 15 states. Five states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee—have no minimum-wage laws, so they go by the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Eight, including Texas, Virginia, and New Hampshire, use the federal standard. In Georgia and Wyoming, the state minimum is lower—$5.15, the national minimum in 1997.

The platform denounces the Obama administration, the Department of Labor, and the National Labor Relations Board for having “scrapped decades of labor law to implement the agenda of big labor.” Instead, the GOP’s vision is a future “built upon employee empowerment and workplace flexibility.” Empowerment would include the freedom “to accept raises and rewards without veto power from union officials”—in other words, the right to cut deals outside a collective-bargaining agreement—and the right not to pay anything to a union that is legally required to represent them. The platform reiterates its 2012 support for state “Right-to-Work laws” and calls for a national law to ban the union shop, to “protect the economic liberty of the modern workforce.”

That freedom, however, would be limited for federal workers who want union representation in a grievance or disciplinary procedure. “Union representatives should not be allowed to engage in union-related activities while on the public’s time,” it says.

The Republican National Committee did not return a phone call from LaborPress.

The GOP also argues that “the forced funding of political candidates through union dues and other mandatory contributions” violates the First Amendment, quoting Thomas Jefferson calling compulsory political donations “sinful and tyrannical.” This is protesting what is already illegal: The Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Educationdecision held that while nonmembers in a union shop must pay a fee that covers the cost of representation, theycan’t be required to contribute to union political activity.

The Obama administration and “its agents” at the NLRB, the platform says, are denying “flexibility” to both employers and employees by “attacking the franchise model of business development” and by “wielding provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act from the 1930s designed to fit a manufacturing workplace.” This likely means the recent NLRB rulings that doubled the pay level below which salaried workers can’t be exempted from overtime pay and held that fast-food corporations can be considered “joint employers” who are responsible for wages and working conditions at their franchisees.

The platform repeats its 2012 call for repeal of the Davis-Bacon law, which requires federal construction contractors to pay prevailing union-scale wages, saying that it “limits employment and drives up construction and maintenance costs for the benefit of unions.” It also denounces project labor agreements that set similar labor standards, saying that they “discriminate against the overwhelming majority of workers by barring them from jobs on taxpayer-funded projects” and leave workers “in a form of peonage to the NLRB.”

None of this is surprising from a party whose blog on July 19 proclaimed,The Democrat Platform Calls For Paid Family And Medical Leave And Encourages Paid Vacation”—as if that were a vile and monstrous thing. On the other hand, the Republican platform’s stance against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is more explicit than the Democrats’: It says “significant trade agreements should not be rushed or undertaken in a Lame Duck Congress.” The Democratic platform committee rejected a similar plank earlier this month, with supporters of Hillary Clinton outvoting those of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

July 21, 2016

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