The new “jobs agenda” outlined in an August 29 memo from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to House Republicans is laughable as a jobs plan. But the joke is on us if this plan passes because it doesn’t do a thing to actually create jobs.
The memo—a “pre-buttal” to President Barack Obama’s scheduled jobs speech on September 8 —lays out the House schedule of votes for the remainder of the year on the “10 most harmful job-destroying regulations.” The first and last votes on the schedule are on regulations that protect workers’ basic union rights, which indicates that the House Majority thinks workers having too many rights is a core problem causing current joblessness in our economy.
Even people skeptical toward unions should recognize this agenda for what it is: a shameful blaming of workers for problems they didn’t create that proposes solutions that only help the rich and the powerful.
Repackaging a tired, antiunion, pro-CEO agenda as a plan for job creation is a sign of just how far off base the House Majority is. Eliminating these regulations will not create jobs. Instead, they will hurt workers, the middle class, and the economy.
The first item up for vote is H.R. 2587, scheduled for the week of September 12. H.R. 2587 is a reaction to a National Labor Relations Board investigation into allegations that The Boeing Company broke the law and retaliated against workers in a Washington state factory by opening a new factory in South Carolina after workers at its Washington plant conducted legally protected union activities. But the bill’s effects would be far broader than the single case.
All Americans have the basic right to organize a union and bargain collectively, including the right to strike, and the NLRB is empowered to stop companies from moving operations or eliminating work to punish workers that exercise these rights. Under the bill it would still be against the law for employers to move work to prevent union activity, but the NLRB would no longer have much power to do anything about it. Imagine if Congress passed a law saying that even though stealing was illegal, the judicial system would no longer prosecute it.
Allowing companies to outsource the jobs of workers who exercise union rights would effectively eliminate the ability of workers to collectively bargain—leaving workers with little ability to come together to try to improve their jobs.
The idea that this is the top regulation to create jobs is ludicrous. So is the memo’s claim that failure to pass the bill will deter future investment in the United States.
First, the case hasn’t even been decided yet. The NLRB has not issued a ruling on this case, and the final verdict is unlikely to be reached for some time. And no matter how the Boeing case is resolved, it is unlikely to affect the total number of jobs in the United States. At worst, the jobs question in the Boeing case is where in the United States—Washington state or South Carolina—they will be. At best, jobs could be maintained in both South Carolina and Washington, because Boeing could still make planes at the South Carolina plant even if the NLRB rules against the company and requires it to maintain a second production line in Washington state.
Second—and to the broader issues raised by the bill—the existing law is clearly not the cause of our current jobs problem. The National Labor Relations Act has been in effect for 75 years. During that time, the United States has seen tremendous investment and job growth. Throughout this long time period, related cases came up, and some required work to be moved back from where it was transferred. Plus, other countries that have much stronger laws protecting union activities and are much more heavily unionized, such as Australia, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands, are doing better or at least as well as the United States in this economic downturn.
All of which suggests that the most important item in the House Majority’s jobs agenda is just a cynical attempt to achieve antiunion goals on the backs of workers and the unemployed, who need serious help.
The last item on the House Republican agenda would repeal a proposed NLRB rule to make the process for joining unions fairer. The rule would reform an election process that far too often allows scheduled elections to be delayed or canceled. The Republican plan would stop the rule and ensure union elections remain unstandardized, inconsistent, and inefficient.
Taking away workers’ rights to fairly choose to join a union is not a plan for job creation. The idea that unions are the jobs problem is absurd. They’re a shrinking factor in the economy, and when they were at their strongest, the U.S. economy was at its strongest.
Union membership has been declining for the past several decades and has fallen since the Great Recession started so that it is now at an all-time low. Less than 7 percent of private-sector workers are now members of unions. During the middle part of the past century when unions represented nearly one-third of all workers, the American economy grew quickly and we built a strong middle class.
There are many real problems with the U.S. economy and they deserve real solutions. Yet the House Majority has focused on a fanciful one whose solution just so happens to benefit their CEO pals, who will have ever more power if workers aren’t able to provide a counterbalance by joining together in unions.
Further evidence that House Republicans are wrong about the substantive effect unions have on the economy is that high labor costs—which are a benefit to workers but a cost to businesses—are not a large problem in today’s economy. Wages have been flat since the start of the Great Recession. In polls of businesses asking what is the single-biggest problem they are facing, only 4 percent of owners cite labor costs. The House Majority claim that unionization raises wages to such unsustainable levels that businesses can’t succeed is utterly preposterous at a time when wages are flat and business profits are at record levels.
The primary problem with the economy today is lack of demand. Consumers are heavily in debt and pulling back from purchases. And businesses won’t invest without some expectation that there will be rising demand for their products. Polls of businesses consistently show that poor sales tops the list as the single-biggest problem companies are facing.
Yet the lack of broad-based demand in the economy doesn’t fit with the Republican solutions that we need to drastically slash government spending and cut taxes for the wealthy. So they look for scapegoats and political opponents to attack.
Rather than being the primary problem with our economy, unions and collective bargaining help increase demand by boosting workers’ wages. Indeed, raising wages through unionization and collective bargaining was seen as a key way out of the Great Depression. And critically, unions help make the middle class by giving all workers—not just those who are unionized—more power in our economy and democracy. Rebuilding the middle class is essential to getting our economy back on track.
The jobs proposals put forward by the House Majority should not be taken seriously. They should only be taken seriously for what they show about House Republicans’ economic thinking. These ideas would do nothing to put people back to work and would harm those with jobs and the greater economy.
David Madland is the Director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.