Right-wing media and conservative financial interests are touting Gov. Scott Walker's latest anti-worker move as a model for America, but his policies will harm the economy and stand in stark contrast with the GOP's recent attempts to rebrand the party as a champion of the middle class.
This week, Wisconsin governor and 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker signed into law a so-called "right-to-work" bill, which will hamper the ability of private-sector workers to organize into labor unions and bargain collectively. Walker proclaimed the bill "sends a powerful message across the country and around the world" and boasted about its economic advantages. His signature follows weeks of championing from conservative media. The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece written by the CEO of Americans for Prosperity that lauded the right-to-work bill in Wisconsin, while misinforming readers about its likely economic impact. Fox News repeatedly praised the bill as well, while the editors of National Review called the Wisconsin bill a "righteous victory" for Walker and described organized labor as a "cancer."
Of course, economists point out that quality of life -- as measured by a variety of factors such as poverty and income rates -- is lower in right-to-work states. In fact, economist Gordon Lafer found that right-to-work laws "lower wages for union and non-union workers by an average of $1,500 a year" and lead to pension and health benefits cuts -- findings echoed in other economic studies.
But politically, Walker is hoping to bolster his conservative bona fides among right-wing media and others in anticipation of a competitive Republican primary season -- by taking a swing at the labor movement. And Wisconsin's latest attack on labor is just the latest chapter in a broader campaign against the middle class being waged in tandem by conservative media, corporate financial interests, and the whole of the Republican Party.
The nexus is easily demonstrable -- the right-to-work law Walker signed is a nearly word-for-word replica of model legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization funded mostly by corporations and conservative organizations, and whose purpose, according to Fortune magazine, is to "bring business-friendly state lawmakers together with lobbyists for corporations." ALEC receives large sums of money from billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch to push legislation that supports the their political agenda, one often at odds with the well-being of middle and working class Americans. Indeed, the right-to-work bill in Wisconsin is just the latest in a string of such laws sweeping through GOP-controlled legislatures in the Midwest thanks to ALEC and the Kochs.
Walker has also been the beneficiary of the Kochs' financial clout. The Kochs directly and indirectly contributed millions of dollars to his gubernatorial campaigns while the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) provided manpower in the form of political rallies and hundreds of volunteers contacting voters in support of Walker. Walker attended a "gathering of rich conservatives" along with other presidential hopefuls convened by the Koch brothers earlier this year.
On Fox News, praise for Walker is over the top -- he is a "sexy" 2016 candidate that makes one host's "toes curl." Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has lavished Walker with compliments, mostly by suggesting Walker has adopted the host's own conservative ideas, while the Drudge Report crowned Walker the "clear GOP frontrunner."
If Walker's corporate-bought anti-worker agenda is the top choice for the conservative media, it symbolizes a striking detachment between conservative policy priorities and policies that would benefit average Americans. As an example, one economist found that declining union participation rates have exacerbated the problem of income inequality in the United States.
Washington Post syndicated columnist George Will dedicated his most recent column to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL), praising the governor's plans to go after public-sector unions, but got some basic facts wrong in the process.
Rauner has quickly become a favorite among right-wing media figures, both during his gubernatorial campaign and since his election in November. The Wall Street Journal and National Review have also lauded Rauner for his February 9 executive order blocking public-sector unions from collecting "fair share" fees from state employees they represent. Although state employees are not required to join, their union is nevertheless required to represent every state employee -- including nonmembers -- during contract negotiations. Without fair-share fees, nonmembers would get all the benefits of unionization without having to pay for it. Rauner's order would effectively institute "right-to-work" rules for state workers without the headache of getting approval from the Democratic majority in the state legislature first.
In his February 25 column, Will called Rauner's election "this century's most intriguing political experiment" and endorsed the governor's plan "to change Illinois's political culture of one-party rule by entrenched politicians subservient to public-sector unions." Will went on to support Rauner's executive order on union dues, but completely bungled basic facts about the order and the ongoing legal challenges surrounding it:
By executive order, Rauner has stopped the government from collecting "fair share" fees for unions from state employees who reject joining a union. This, he says, violates First Amendment principles by compelling people to subsidize speech with which they disagree. The unions might regret challenging this in federal court: If the case reaches the Supreme Court and it overturns the 1977 decision that upheld "fair shares," this would end the practice nationwide.
Rauner hopes to ban, as some states do, public employees unions from making political contributions, whereby they elect the employers with whom they negotiate their compensation. Rauner notes that an owner of a small firm that does business with Illinois's government is forbidden to make political contributions. Rauner also hopes to enable counties and local jurisdictions to adopt right-to-work laws, thereby attracting businesses that will locate only where there are such laws.
Right-wing media are celebrating Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R-IL) executive order blocking public-sector unions from collecting "fair share" fees from the state employees they represent, even though there is no precedent for such a move. National Review and The Wall Street Journal are praising Rauner for "thinking creatively" by effectively turning Illinois into a "right-to-work" state without legislative approval, even though those same outlets have criticized President Obama for issuing lawful executive orders without Republican input.
Rauner's order specifically targets "fair share" dues that nonmembers in unionized workplaces pay to cover the cost of union representation for their collective bargaining agreements. Illinois law already prohibits fair share fees (as opposed to full membership dues) from being used to fund union political activities, but Rauner nevertheless issued his executive order and wrongly claimed that "an employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree." A number of states have passed "right-to-work" laws that target these kinds of dues with the express purpose of weakening the bargaining power of unions. But Rauner saved himself some time by ignoring decades of Supreme Court labor-law precedent and imposing the "right-to-work" standard on state employees without running it past the legislature first.
Right-wing media are not particularly concerned with Rauner's unilateral and legally questionable antics. Rauner's lawyers, however, apparently realize the unusual nature of this executive action. On the governor's behalf, they have defensively filed a lawsuit asking a district court to preemptively declare his order legal on the radical assumption that all union activity -- even that related to collective bargaining -- is inherently political.
In a February 11 post, National Review writer Patrick Brennan applauded Rauner's "daring" and legal manuevering, celebrating that "Rauner's Illinois is in limbo -- and, duly elected, he deserves credit for putting them there." The Journal also praised Rauner in a February 10 editorial for "thinking creatively" since the "Democrats who have a supermajority in the state legislature won't make Illinois a right-to-work state."
This is an interesting about-face on executive orders from these outlets, which have attacked Obama's executive action on immigration in the face of an obstructionist GOP-controlled House as an "abuse of power" and "executive overreach" -- despite there being plenty of legal and historical precedent to support Obama's orders. In a November 16 editorial, the Journal argued that it would "support more liberal immigration but not Mr. Obama's means of doing it on his own whim because he's tired of working with Congress." Similarly, in a November 6 editorial, National Review complained that for Obama to "act on immigration without engaging the country's new congressional majority would be a defiance of the legislative branch, and of the American electorate."
But Rauner's order gets a pass from National Review now, because it is enough that "after a deep legal review, he thinks the fair-share fees are unconstitutional forced expression."
Apparently Rauner's deep legal review involves rewriting the basics of labor law. As the Illinois Economic Policy Institute explained, Rauner's claim that "state workers are forced to pay union dues for political purposes" is "false":
Illinois law does not prohibit labor organizations with state collective bargaining agreements from contributing to elected officials, but it also does not mandate that workers must pay for political activities that are endorsed by their representative union. The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act requires all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement to pay their "fair share" of the cost of collective bargaining and contract administration. Fair share dues "shall not include any fees for contributions related to the election or support of any candidate for political office" but an employee can make "voluntary political contributions in conjunction with his or her fair share payment" [emphasis added]. Since the 1988 Communications Workers of America v. Beck case in the U.S. Supreme Court, unions are authorized to collect from non-members only fees and dues necessary to perform collective bargaining operations, and workers can object to paying a portion of their dues toward political activities.
As conservative Justice Antonin Scalia explained in a 1991 labor law case, nonmembers who don't pay dues "are free riders whom the law requires the union to carry -- indeed, requires the union to go out of its way to benefit, even at the expense of its other interests. In the context of bargaining, a union must seek to further the interests of its nonmembers; it cannot, for example, negotiate particularly high wage increases for its members in exchange for accepting no increases for others." Without compulsory fair share dues for the collective bargaining agreement from which both non-members and members benefit, unions face a serious "free rider" problem and threat to their financial viability.
Which, for the National Review and the Journal, is clearly the point.
There's no question that the current makeup of the Supreme Court is less sympathetic to the labor movement than it has been in the past. In 2014, the conservative majority ruled that home care workers in Illinois (who are paid with state Medicaid funds but are not full-fledged public employees) cannot be compelled to pay dues to a union they don't want to join, but ultimately declined to strike down a 1977 case that allows public-sector unions to collect "fair share" dues from nonmembers. Even though Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion questioned the "foundations" of that 1977 ruling -- basically inviting a challenge like Rauner's -- the case is still good law.
In light of this precedent, some might call Rauner's actions an appeal to the "judicial activism" they frequently condemn. The WSJ, on the other hand, is calling this "thinking creatively."
With two weeks to go before midterm elections, the North Carolina Senate race is on track to be the most expensive Senate race ever. But on Fox News, the focus is on spending by teachers unions, not the conservative-backed groups pouring money three times that amount into the state.
Fox News' America's Newsroom highlighted on October 21 how two prominent teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), are "on track to spend a record amount this [campaign] cycle." Focusing specifically on the North Carolina Senate race, host Martha MacCallum asked, "What are the teachers unions doing there?" Correspondent Mike Emanuel noted that Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is polling narrowly ahead of her Republican challenger Thom Tillis, as "the National Education Association super PAC has spent about $3 million on ads blaming Republican Tillis for making class sizes bigger and for reduced art and sports programs. Expect more of this down the final stretch," because Tillis is "a target."
With its focus on teachers unions, Fox conveniently left out the spending from outside groups that totals nearly three times more. For example, the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers has poured in at least $8.3 million in ad money. At least $6 million has come from groups linked to conservative Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor.
Such selective reporting on election spending is becoming standard for the network, which has worked to minimize the influx of money supporting Republican candidates into states with hotly-contested congressional races this election cycle.
News of a massive student protest in Colorado against a "conservative-led school board proposal" has prompted Fox News to rethink its stance on student freedoms.
Earlier this week, hundreds of students across six high schools in Arvada, Colorado, walked out of their classrooms amid news of a "conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority." The Associated Press reported that the curriculum proposal would establish a committee to ensure certain history materials "don't 'encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law'":
Student participants said their demonstration was organized by word of mouth and social media. Many waved American flags and carried signs, including messages that read "There is nothing more patriotic than protest."
The school board proposal that triggered the walkouts in Jefferson County calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage. It would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."
On September 25, Fox & Friends hosted Ken Witt, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, which oversees the Arvada schools, to discuss the protests. Amid chyrons like "Political Pawns" and "Teachers Are Using Students," Witt alleged that the real issue was not the history curriculum proposal, but rather the upcoming teachers union contract :
WITT: That's the unfortunate situation that's going on. I believe that there is a significant amount of union conflict right now that we would like to not have. The issue is that it's easy to get children out. It's easy to use kids as pawns and it's not right. We have a union contract that's expiring in August of this year.
Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck parroted Witt's allegations, saying, "What concerns me is that what I'm hearing from you, and correct me if I am wrong, is that there is someone else behind this planting it and using these students for their own gain."
As the current Supreme Court term winds down, a number of highly anticipated cases will be released in the coming week. Here are five of the decisions right-wing media have repeatedly misinformed about, as well as the top myths and facts.
From the April 15 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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While defending the Supreme Court's decision to undo decades of precedent and policy in campaign finance law, hosts of Fox News' The Five falsely suggested that unions can donate unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. In fact, unions are barred from directly donating to candidates and political parties.
In its April 2 decision on McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court decided that overall campaign contribution limits, previously set at $123,200 per individual per two-year election cycle, were unconstitutional. This allows future contributions to be spread among an unlimited number of political candidates, political parties, and PACs.
On April 4, as The Five co-host Bob Beckel criticized the decision and explained that these contribution limits were passed into law following the Watergate scandal, his fellow hosts Dana Perino and Eric Bolling claimed that unions face no limits on contributions, while there were limits on individuals.
But Perino and Bolling are incorrect. While unions, as well as corporations, can as of the 2010 Citizens United decision spend unlimited amounts on elections, they are still barred from direct contributions to candidates or political parties -- which is what the McCutcheon case was about. As USA Today explained:
It's the most important campaign-finance ruling since the high court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts independently to influence elections.
The limits on campaign contributions had stood for nearly 40 years. The high court drew a distinction between those contributions, which it said could lead to corruption, and money spent independently in its landmark 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling. Independent spending was expanded in the Citizens United case to include unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions.
Independent expenditures, which unions are allowed to make, are not the same as direct contributions to political candidates and political parties. A guide to federal election rules from The Campaign Legal Center states: "Corporations and labor unions are prohibited from using treasury funds to make a contribution to candidates, political parties, and many types of PACs."
Fox News has an enemy in the education debate, and that enemy is teachers unions.
In the weeks since New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools from using public school space rent-free, conservative media have sent themselves into a tizzy distorting the mayor's record, accusing him of waging a "war on children" and calling him "Comrade Bill." Perhaps no outlet was more indignant about de Blasio's decision than Fox News, whose hosts and pundits seemed incapable of discussing the story without blaming teachers unions, devoid of any evidence or support.
Watch below for Fox's "All Speculation, No Corroboration" approach to blaming teachers:
Fox's misguided outrage is unsurprising given the network's track record on unions. Its hosts and commentators have previously asked if "teachers unions [are] ruining your kids' education" and referred to labor unions as "parasites" that are "not doing anything" for workers. Fox host Dana Perino even suggested earlier this year that instead of making an "anti-NRA" film, filmmaker Harvey Weinstein could better "tackle gun violence if he would take on the teachers unions."
Fox dishonestly framed the current National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case examining outside influence in the Chattanooga Volkswagen union vote as an attack on Sen. Bob Corker's free speech, ignoring that the board has no authority to constrain political speech.
On February 14, workers at the Chattanooga, Tennessee Volkswagen plant voted down a proposal to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a vote of 712 - 626. The vote came after an extended media campaign which culminated on February 13, the day before the scheduled vote, when Corker falsely alleged that if the workers voted against the union, the plant would be rewarded with a new product to manufacture. His claim was immediately rejected by Volkswagen.
The UAW appealed for a re-vote, contending that the "coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign" by Corker and others infringed on the workers' right to "employee free choice."
But on the March 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck framed the fallout of Corker's threats and the impending investigation as "what happens when one of America's most powerful unions doesn't get its way," and as an effort by the UAW to get "a whole new set of rules" if the votes are recast. Hasselbeck then turned to guest Sen. Bob Corker to explain the pending NLRB decision, asking whether the UAW's objection to his threat was really an attempt to stifle free speech:
HASSELBECK: This is a freedom of speech issue, is it not? I mean, The president was out there speaking on behalf of the unions. You were certainly speaking on behalf of your constituents. You worked long and hard to get Volkswagen there from the beginning. Actually had initial meetings in your home. [...] They're telling you you can't speak, but yet the president can? Is this a double standard when it comes to freedom of speech?
CORKER: Yes. And I think, you know, we'll have to see. The UAW has been given until Friday to add additional arguments to their case. You're right, the president weighed in during the election process also. Again, this has happened time and time in the past and never, never before has the NLRB ever overruled because politicians have been involved in this way. So look, I -- you're right. I built the industrial part that Volkswagen is located on when I was mayor with others, recruited them to our state, had been involved with them for five years. Know the management up and down the line, have been, you know, have relationships there. And for me to express concerns about what it would mean to our community and our state over time is something that I think people elect me to do. So again, this is an interesting case. Hopefully even though this is Obama's NLRB, these are his appointees, hopefully they will do the right thing here and not try to muzzle people that are elected by people in their state.
Fox's attempt to frame the NLRB decision as an issue of free speech is dishonest. Offering workers a second chance to consider unionization isn't the same thing as "muzzling" Corker, and giving workers some distance from his comments isn't, as Hasselbeck claimed, a UAW ploy to implement "a whole new set of rules." As former NLRB general counsel Fred Feinstein explained, "the NLRB has no authority over Sen. Corker and cannot control what he says." At most, he said, the Board could conclude that Corker's comments had unfairly tainted the election and could "conceivably order a new one."
The NLRB is responsible for protecting workers legal right to "engage in protected concerted activities-group action to improve wages, benefits, and working conditions and to engage in union activities and support a union," and works to ensure that workers are free of coercion while maintaining their right to "free choice" during union elections. The NLRB typically focuses on whether unions or companies have been involved in illegal coercion of workers during a union vote, but third-party coercion is still a concern. The Huffington Post explained that the NLRB could make the case "that Corker's highly detailed statement created an atmosphere of coercion."
The UAW is only asking for a re-vote, which, if granted, would only allow the unionization of the plant with a majority vote. That's a far cry from Fox's claim that the UAW is planning to "take over" the Volkswagen plant and block officials' free speech in the process.
In recent months, conservative media figures have undermined efforts by labor groups to organize across the United States, demonizing labor unions in the process. These anti-union attacks are largely reliant on myths alleging negative side-effects of union participation.
From the February 19 edition of Fox News Channel's The Five:
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Fox News gave Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) an uncritical platform to continue pushing anti-labor falsehoods about a recent attempt to unionize a Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, TN.
On February 14, the VW plant in Chattanooga voted against joining the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a vote of 712-626. Prior to the vote, Corker and third party anti-labor groups like Grover Norquist's Center for Worker Freedom (CWF) waged an anti-UAW publicity campaign that threatened workers with claims that unionizing would hurt jobs and the economy of Tennessee. Days after stating that he believed it was not "appropriate" to make public statements about the unionizing effort, Corker issued one anyhow, telling workers that if they rejected the union, VW would reward the plant with a new product line:
I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.
But VW AG rebuffed statement, saying "There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees' decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market."
On the February 19 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer interviewed Corker, who repeated the claim that the vote to unionize was tied to decisions about new product lines for the plant. Remarkably, Hemmer failed to push Corker on this point or even note that VW directly rejected his accusations.
Fox News accused an MSNBC contributor of injecting racism into the failed union vote at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, but the analogy that formed the basis of Fox's phony outrage actually originated with the anti-labor forces Fox was defending.
Last week workers at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen plant voted against organizing with the United Auto Workers union. The vote gained national attention for what some labor experts called the unusual nature of the campaign: While Volkswagen did not oppose unionization, interference was run by national conservative groups like Grover Norquist's Center for Worker Freedom, which, aided by Republican politicians, waged a dishonest publicity war against the union effort.
On February 17, MSNBC contributing writer Timothy Noah ruffled right-wing feathers after he said that the anti-union forces were portraying the UAW as "a union invasion, refighting of the Civil War," adding: "Apparently there are not a lot of black employees in this particular plant, and so that kind-of, waving of the Confederate flag was an effective strategy."
Fox News figures accused Noah of injecting the "tired, old, desperate" racism argument into the union vote. According to The Five co-host Andrea Tantaros, Noah's reference to the Civil War was "shameful" and "really pathetic."
The problem with Fox's indignation is that the Civil War analogy Noah referenced actually originated with the UAW opposition trying to convince workers to vote against organizing.
Fox News figures covered up controversial tactics by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who falsely promised that Volkswagen would reward workers at a Chattanooga plant with a new SUV production if they voted against unionizing.
On February 14, the Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, TN voted against joining the United Auto Workers union by a vote of 712 - 626. Fox News' America's News HQ reacted to the vote by calling it a "major win for Republicans like Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee who say unions just would push away auto manufacturers." Fox then aired comments from Corker who claimed, "How many companies from South Korea or Japan or Germany, how many of them do you think make a stop in Detroit to look at locating there? None. Not a one. And it's because of the culture that the UAW's largely contributed":
But what Fox omitted from its report is that Corker is at the center of controversy for this advocacy against the union. On February 13, the day before the vote was scheduled to take place, Corker claimed that if the workers of the Chattanooga plant rejected the union, Volkswagen would "reward the plant with a new product to build":
Corker has long been an opponent of the union which he says hurts economic and job growth in Tennessee, a charge that UAW officials say is untrue.
"I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga," said Corker, without saying with whom he had the conversations.
But Corker's claim was immediately rebuffed by Volkswagen, who had remained neutral and even "tacitly endorsed the union." In a statement released following Corker's comments, the company stressed that unionization would have no impact on its decision about where to build the new product, saying "There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees' decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market." None of this information was presented in Fox's report.