The Rise Of Anti-Union Rhetoric In The 2016 Race

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

The Rise Of Anti-Union Rhetoric In The 2016 Race

This week, the Supreme Court agreed to take a case that could spell doom for public sector unions, with the potential to make the entire country so-called “right-to-work” territory.

If that effort fails, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has vowed to make every state a “right-to-work” state if elected president. Out of all the Republican candidates running for president, a growing roster that now tops a dozen, Walker has focused the most on his record fighting unions — a record he says prepares him to confront enemy combatants like ISIS if elected president.

But while Walker may be the loudest and proudest union buster in the 2016 race, his fellow candidates are also striving to prove their anti-labor bona fides.

Carly Fiorina has blamed unions for pay disparities between men and women, though that disparity is much smaller among unionized workers.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has called for ending collective bargaining for postal workers and implementing “right-to-work” nationwide.

In his campaign launch on Tuesday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie touted his years-long battle with the state’s teachers unions, in which he stripped away their tenure protections and pensions. At a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire, he faulted labor for U.S. students falling behind their global peers. “The teachers union likes to be off work four or five months a year. They like to get a full-time salary for a part-time job. They don’t want to work longer hours.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has similarly long blamed teachers unions for impeding his education policy efforts, slamming their “Herculean efforts” to stop the expansion of charter schools and voucher programs that draw resources away from public schools. Yet Louisianans on the Left and Right have criticized Jindal’s record on schools: “The governor and the GOP state legislature really have balanced the budget on the back of higher education,” wrote conservative columnist Rod Dreher. “Under Jindal’s leadership, the state has cut its spending on higher education to the bone. Now they’re sucking marrow.”

Though former Texas Governor Rick Perry is a card-carrying union member (he joined an actors’ union after playing himself in one film), he too had advocated for a national law outlawing automatic union dues collection. In his last run for president, he also called for eliminating entire federal agencies — though he couldn’t remember which ones — and said any federal workers who disagreed with him would be reassigned “to some really God-awful place.”

And this week, former Florida Governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush told a South Carolina audience that teachers unions are “an adult-centered system. They’re not focused on the outcomes for kids as much as the economic interests of the adults.” The comment echoed his recent campaign launch speech, in which he vowed to “take the power…away from the unions and bureaucrats and give it back to parents.” Bush’s rhetoric has earned the ire of the American Federation of Teachers, which accused him of promoting “privatization and disinvestment in public schools by calling for what’s disguised as choice.”

Bush’s comments on unions have also been called “terrible” by famed civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who told ThinkProgress politicians should instead be advocating for higher salaries and better training for teachers. and more support services at schools.

“It’s a sin to blame educational failures on our teachers, when it’s our whole system that is failing teachers and failing students,” she said. “Anyone who disrespects our teachers like [Bush did] really needs an education themselves.”

Though union membership in the U.S. has declined for decades, organized labor remains a powerful political force. Though some Republicans have made halfhearted attempts to win their support, they have largely ceded their millions of votes and millions of dollars in campaign funding to the Democratic Party. The norm for Republican candidates has now become demonizing unionized workers.


This has been reposted from Think Progress.


Image by Donkey Hotey on Flickr.

Alice Ollstein is a Political Reporter at ThinkProgress. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered and Telesur. Alice is originally from Santa Monica, California.