Here are two distinct reflections on two Republican Presidents with regards to American Organized Labor. Eisenhower, who today would never ever be nominated by any GOP convention in the last 40 years and Ronald Reagan, who would also have problems in today’s GOP. Eisenhower was a decent man, who was over his head as president, and for sure, whose health made him unfit for the job, reflected on two separate issues in these following quotes. His two Secretaries of Labor, Martin Drucker (8 months) and James P. Mitchell were pro-labor and worked to protect worker rights. NO Republican after him had any real interest in the American Labor Movement. As for Reagan his anti-union policies are a part of historical record.
*”Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. And a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society.”
*”Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of their right to join the union of their choice.”
*”Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things, but their number is negligible and they are stupid.”—Republican President Dwight Eisenhower
As for Ronald Reagan- The following is an excerpt from a piece written by Dick Meister!
Reagan in any case, was a true ideologue of the anti-labor political right. Yes, he had been president of the Screen Actors Guild, but he was notoriously pro-management, leading the way to a strike-ending agreement in 1959 that greatly weakened the union and finally resigning under membership pressure before his term ended.
Reagan’s war on labor began in the summer of 1981, when he fired 13,000 striking air traffic controllers and destroyed their union. As Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson noted, that was “an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers, and employers got that message loud and clear — illegally firing workers who sought to unionize, replacing permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps who could not, shipping factories and jobs abroad.”
Reagan gave dedicated union foes direct control of the federal agencies that were designed originally to protect and further the rights and interests of workers and their unions.
Most important was Reagan’s appointment of three management representatives to the five-member National Labor Relations Board which oversees union representation elections and labor-management bargaining, They included NLRB Chairman Donald Dotson, who believed that “unionized labor relations have been the major contributors to the decline and failure of once-healthy industries” and have caused “destruction of individual freedom.”
Under Dotson, a House subcommittee found, the board abandoned its legal obligation to promote collective bargaining, in what amounted to “a betrayal of American workers.”
The NLRB settled only about half as many complaints of employers’ illegal actions as had the board during the previous administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter, and those that were settled upheld employers in three-fourths of the cases. Even under Republican Richard Nixon, employers won only about one-third of the time.
Most of the complaints were against employers who responded to organizing drives by illegally firing union supporters. The employers were well aware that under Reagan the NLRB was taking an average of three years to rule on complaints, and that in any case it generally did no more than order the discharged unionists reinstated with back pay. That’s much cheaper than operating under a union contract.
The board stalled as long before acting on petitions from workers seeking union representation elections and stalled for another year or two after such votes before certifying winning unions as the workers’ bargaining agents. Under Reagan, too, employers were allowed to permanently replace workers who dared exercise their legal right to strike.
Reagan’s Labor Department was as one-sided as the NLRB. It became an anti-labor department, virtually ignoring, for instance, the union-busting consultants who were hired by many employers to fend off unionization. Very few consultants and very few of those who hired them were asked for the financial disclosure statements the law demands. Yet all unions were required to file the statements that the law required of them (and that could be used to advantage by their opponents). And though the department cut its overall budget by more than 10 percent, it increased the budget for such union-busting activities by almost 40 percent.
Union-busting was only one aspect of Reagan’s anti-labor policy. He attempted to lower the minimum wage for younger workers, ease the child labor and anti-sweatshop laws, tax fringe benefits, and cut back job training programs for the unemployed. He tried to replace thousands of federal employees with temporary workers who would not have civil service or union protections.
The Reagan administration all but dismantled programs that required affirmative action and other steps against discrimination by federal contractors, and seriously undermined worker safety. It closed one-third of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s field offices, trimmed its staff by more than one-fourth and decreased the number of penalties assessed against employers by almost three-fourths.
Rather than enforce the law, the administration sought “voluntary compliance” from employers on safety matters – and generally didn’t get or expect it. The administration had so tilted the job safety laws in favor of employers that union safety experts found them virtually useless.
The same could have been said of all other labor laws in the Reagan era. A statement issued at the time by the presidents of several major unions concluded it would have been more advantageous for those who worked for a living to ignore the laws and return “to the law of the jungle” that prevailed a half-century before.
Their suggestion came a little late. Ronald Reagan had already plunged labor-management relations deep into the jungle.
Dick Meister is a reporter for United Press, The Associated
Press, the San Jose Mercury News and PBS TV
Station KQED in San Francisco, labor editor of the
San Francisco Chronicle, city editor of the Oakland
Tribune, and a commentator on Pacifica Radio in
Berkeley, Los Angeles and Houston, KQED-FM in San
Francisco and other public radio stations. I hold BA
and MA degrees in journalism from Stanford University
and have taught the subject at San Francisco State University
He is the co-author of a history of farm labor, “A Long Time Coming,”
published by Macmillan.