The American trade union movement is facing a series of threats and challenges, particularly on the state level, where record numbers of anti-union bills have been introduced, even in traditionally pro-labor states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada and New Jersey.
That was the message that William Gould IV, professor emeritus at Stanford Law School and former chair of the National Labor Relations Board, delivered during the February meeting of the San Francisco Bay Area and Vicinity Port Maritime Council.
“This is a very serious matter, and California is not exempt!” he told those attending from 21 unions and locals.
According to Gould, who has worked tirelessly to enact policies to reinvigorate organized labor, especially during his years in the Clinton administration, “Federal labor law is so broken that it brings law into disrepute.” While the trade union movement has been under attack from special interest groups for several decades now, the pace and intensity of those attacks is gaining steam. He pointed out that 24 states have “Right-to-Work” (for less) laws, including Michigan where its legislature passed and governor signed a Right-to-Work (for less) law last year in one of the most pro-union states in the nation. Gould predicted that given the record, the change in state labor law would have a devastating effect. In nearby Indiana, union membership has dropped 18 percent after similar legislation was enacted.
Putting on his professor’s cap, Gould recalled a Right-to-Work (for less) legislative effort that took place in 1958, when 14 state bills were introduced. Thirteen were defeated. The situation today could hardly be more different.
Unfortunately, Right-to-Work (for less) isn’t the only threat to the labor movement, he added. For example, the Federal District Court in Washington, DC, ruled that President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) were unconstitutional. Given the current backlog of case law and the refusal by anti-labor forces on Capitol Hill to fill vacancies to the board, this has raised serious questions at a time when the NLRB needs to be fully engaged.