October 2012

Anti-Unionism-Back in the Saddle?

As U.S. ironworkers walk into voting booths this November, it's worth remembering these words:

"If I become president of the United States, I will curb the practice we have in this country of giving 'union bosses' an unfair advantage in contracting.

"One of the first things I'll do-actually on Day One-is (that) I will end the government's favoritism towards unions in contracting on federal projects and end project labor agreements, and I will fight to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act." -Republican presidential nominee, former Gov. Mitt Romney

This distortion and vow was delivered to the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) at their annual conference earlier this year. The comments brought a standing ovation from this room of rabidly anti-union lobbyists.

Or check out the video on YouTube.com by entering "Romney" and "ABC." It's easy to think politics are "not for me" or that "politicians are all the same" or what have you, but it's just not true on work and labor issues.

The Republican-created Davis-Bacon prevailing wage federal law is over 80 years old and continues to enjoy mostly bi-partisan support based on its very real advantages to local workers and jobs in their communities. But it certainly still suffers under Reagan-era gutting of enforcement and the wrecking of prevailing wage determinations. In a still-recovering economy, now is not the time to dismantle still inadequate labor standards.

Let it be a reminder that, as the national building trades has stated, "We stand with those who stand with us." There have been repeated attempts to repeal Davis-Bacon of late, and all (so far) end up failing. Under Romney-Ryan, we would see the U.S. Department of Labor gutted again; not returning phone calls, supporting rock-bottom wage rates, and letting prevailing wage cheaters run amuck. The DOL has only just begun to get back to its core mission of helping labor.

Think of who has stood tall to the anti-union politicians of yesterday and today, such as from the 1930s through the ‘50s, John L. Lewis, the legendary head of the United Mine Workers. He helped organize millions of workers into the CIO, famously saying in organizing drives, "President Roosevelt wants you to join the union."

In the face of strong anti-union sentiment of his opponent, the words from President Obama are, "I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. To me, it's part of the solution. You cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement.

"I don't buy the argument that providing workers with collective bargaining rights somehow weakens the economy or worsens the business environment. If you've got workers who have decent pay and benefits, they're also customers for business."

And that's part of the rationale of PLAs and prevailing wage. Shortly before winning his first term, President Obama wrote to the Bush-era Department of Labor under Secretary Elaine Chao (wife of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell):

"I am writing to express serious concerns regarding recent reports that the U.S. Department of Labor is not fulfilling its mission to prevent and remedy violations of federal minimum wage and overtime laws. It is important that the Department put procedures into place that will lead to improvements of workers' rights. This is the core mission of the Department and failing to adequately enforce the (labor laws) is unacceptable"

So how has Secretary Hilda Solis (President Obama' choice for the department) fared? Last year, the Wage & Hour Division's budget (just part of the total DOL outlay) was an estimated $244 million. That's an increase of almost $20 million in one year-with greatly restored staffing for investigations, reversing decades of neglect.

And the end result? The number of incoming Wage and Hour Division, Department of Labor complaints concerning Davis-Bacon violators has quadrupled since President Bush's last year in 2008.

This doubles the number of completed cases and increases the enforcement hours by six times since '08. New debarments that prevent sham contractors from bidding on public work quadrupled when you compare Bush's 2008 to 2011 with Obama, according to DOL statistics. American ironworkers will want to strongly consider these issues on November 6.