Media coverage of national labor battle

NYHTC — March 22, 2011

In the newspapers you read and the TV channels you watch, have you been following the great national debate about the sudden onslaught by "Tea-publicans" to destroy labor unions in states across the country? Have you read all the op-ed pieces by union officials in the major newspapers? Have you read the insightful analyses of the issue? Are you well-informed about the relevant facts? Have you watched all the television interviews giving elected local and national union leaders the opportunity to speak out on behalf of the millions of workers they represent?

No? That's because it's not there. If any more proof is needed that the major (corporate-controlled) media outlets are self-censoring, their handling of this potentially history-altering story provides it.

Bills aimed at weakening and ultimately eradicating labor unions continue to be pushed aggressively in state legislatures across the country. Ominously, this is true even in states where, for generations, unions have been strongest where it became possible for working families to constitute America's great middle class.

Republican governors and state legislators, in particular, those elected this past November, are now using working people as their scapegoat, shamelessly blaming them for the economic disaster Republicans created by running up insane government deficits through irresponsible tax-cuts for the rich. Not content simply to shift responsibility from themselves to their victims, Republicans are also seizing this opportunity to crush unions the only significant organized force opposing their monopoly on power. This audacious and cynical Republican strategy could only be attempted under the sleepy eyes of a reliably subservient news media.

Union members, and citizens who value democracy, need to work hard to stay informed, and they also need to read and view the "news" with a very critical and suspicious eye, if for no other reason than to recognize what's not being presented. Here is what is currently going on in some of the states where union-suppressing legislation is pending:

WISCONSIN: Even though Republican Governor Scott Walker's anti-union legislation was enacted, the people of Wisconsin have made clear they are angry, disgusted, and not done opposing not only the new law but also Walker himself and his Republican collaborators in the state's senate and assembly. Although Walker signed the bill immediately after it passed, it has not yet become law. Two separate lawsuits challenging procedural measures the Republicans used to get the bill passed are pending. In the suit alleging violations of the state's open meetings law, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the law's enactment, and the state has announced its intention to take an immediate appeal from the judge's decision. Grass-roots efforts to recall Walker and Republicans legislators who voted for the measure have already been initiated and groups are organizing throughout the state to further these and other recall efforts.

OHIO: Newly-elected Republican governor John Kasich, a former investment banker with Lehman Brothers, is determined to see the Republican-initiated anti-union measure pass; as in Wisconsin, Republicans control the state legislature. Even so, vigorous, determined, and highly visible opposition from workers almost derailed passage of Senate Bill 5; it passed 17-16. Six Republicans joined all the senate Democrats in voting against it. It would not even have made it to the floor if the Republican president of the senate had not abruptly removed two Republican legislators from their respective committees prior to their vote on the bill. If passed by the house, the measure will make deep inroads into the existing collective bargaining rights of some 350,000 unionized government workers; health benefits and certain working conditions would be made non-negotiable. Binding arbitration would be replaced by an arrangement where legislative bodies would do the deciding, e.g., if the employer is the city, the city council would decide. Government workers would not have the right to strike; should they do so, they could be imprisoned or subject to other penalties.

MICHIGAN: Despite protests that drew thousands of workers to the state capital, newly-elected Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill giving "emergency financial managers" even more power than those prior legislation had conferred on them. Opponents of the new law consider it a double-barreled attack on basic rights. The governor gets to decide whether and when an emergency manager will be appointed. Once appointed, their broad grants of power enable them to leave elected officials largely without their powers of office. In addition, they can turn collective bargaining agreements into meaningless pieces of paper as they have the power to modify or terminate them at will.

FLORIDA: Anti-union legislation is also on the agenda here even though there is already not much to do away with, particularly where government workers are concerned. There is no right to binding arbitration, government employers already have the final say on contract disputes, workers have no right to strike, and they are subject to severe penalties if they do. Nonetheless, another newly-elected Republican governor, Rick Scott, and a Republican-dominated legislature want more restrictions imposed. Three bills are pending. One would eliminate the collection of union dues by way of payroll deductions. If passed, it would significantly undermine the ability of public sector unions to maintain their organizations and simultaneously reduce their political power. Another would further constrict their right to engage in collective bargaining, while the third would erode teachers' due process and collective bargaining rights.

IDAHO:Republican Governor Butch Otter has signed two of three "education reform" bills into law and is pursuing passage of the third. According to a brief press release his office issued upon their signing, the two new laws "will improve the ability of our public schools to fulfill their mission of educating Idaho's children." High school students staged a statewide walkout to protest the legislation. Reuters reported that it removes some major areas from the collective bargaining process, citing teacher workloads and class sizes as examples.

INDIANA: The current legislative session remains at an impasse. Republicans in the house have been unable to muster a quorum for almost a month owing to the absence of the Democratic representatives who remain in Illinois, despite $250 per day fines. The labor bill in dispute contains, among other measures, a dues-related provision that could starve unions to death financially. Democrats want the bill tabled so that a "summer study committee" could work through this issue and resolve other remaining issues before the legislature reconvenes. Concerns remain that Republicans might insert the anti-union language into Senate bills, as Republicans have no quorum difficulties in that chamber.

Guillen, Joe. Ohio Senate Republicans pass collective bargaining overhaul by narrowest margin; bill moves to Ohio House. Cleveland Plain Dealer. March 2, 2011.

Zuckerman, Laura. Idaho governor signs union curbs on teachers. Reuters. March 17, 2011.

Bradner, Eric. Indiana House Democrats outline terms to end four-week boycott. Evansville Courier & Press. March 16, 2011.