When management locked out the dockworkers, President Bush invoked the national security provision of Taft-Hartley and ordered the workers to return to work. The problem, of course, was not that the workers refused to work; it was that the management refused to manage.
Despite the Administrations intervention, the ILWU won a contract that protected workers jobs and allowed for technological innovation on the docks.
The Administration continued its assault on rights of federal workers. It denied airport screeners the right to join a union. Undaunted, the Service Employees International Union continues to organize the screeners.
In November 2002, the Administration announced plans to privatize as many as 850,000 federal jobs. These jobs would be the ones the Administration deemed not inherently governmental. Ironically, given that the Reagan Administration fired the previous generation of these workers, air traffic controller jobs have been designated as not inherently governmental.
As part of the assault on federal workers, the Administration and its Congressional allies have slipped an interesting provision into the Medicare prescription drug bill. That provision would strip all federal workers of civil service protections and eliminate federal pay scales.
The Administration also determined that some workers are making too much money. The Department of Labor will implement new overtime rules on September 1, 2003, that will seek to prohibit workers making more than $65,000 per year from receiving overtime pay. The new rules will also guarantee overtime pay to those making less than $22,310. Workers making between these amounts can be deemed exempt from overtime if their jobs are administrative or executive in nature. One of the determining factors will be if the job requires the worker to do paperwork.
All this matters only if jobs are available. The official unemployment rate has increased by fifty percent since the Administration took office. Since November 2001, the economy has 2.5 million fewer jobs. The loss has been particularly hard in manufacturing.
Manufacturing job losses hit the labor movement hard, as manufacturing remains a core of the labor movement. The result has been a slight dip in the percent of workers belonging to unions.
This decline is less than the job loss number would suggest in large part because unions continue to organize. Through the end of August, unions have added well over 100,000 new members in 2003.
On the state level, unions scored a major victory. Every state in the union faced, and faces, a significant budget crisis. Governor Pataki chose to deal with the crisis by proposing a budget that would have devastated state services, slashed the state workforce and threatened the viability of the states health care system.
While the state AFL-CIO could not bring itself to talk about a tax increase, it did force the debate over the budget to include revenue enhancements. The SEIU and the New York State United Teachers held massive rallies attended by tens of thousands to pressure state lawmakers and Governor Pataki to pass a budget that maintained state services. The eventual budget included revenue enhancements of an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers and a sales tax increase of .25%.
The legislative session also established a financial control board for the city of Buffalo. The board has the power to void labor agreements between the city and its unions, but has yet to exercise that power, despite pressure from County Executive Joel Giambra and the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership. Mayor Anthony Masiello sent a plea to Buffalo residents seeking relief from labor contracts and from fringe benefits cited to be representative of one-third of the budget. It is the battle over so-called fringe benefits, especially health care, that will shape the story of labor in the next year. That is true for workers and all unions.
The CWA, IBEW and Verizon, despite a $4 billion profit, are negotiating over who should bear increased health care costs, attempting to appropriate responsibility to the workers. The UAW and the Big Three automakers are negotiating over health care costs and plant closures.
The difficulty in these situations is that neither party nor both parties together can control those costs; private health insurance companies impose these premiums in order to guarantee themselves a suitable profit. (Note: The definition of a suitable profit is more than last year.) According to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, administrative costs for private health insurance companies exceed those of the national health care system in Canada by over 30%. Further, the study finds that the higher the administrative costs the lower the quality of care. The study poses a way out of the collective bargaining based dilemma in the form of a national health care system. Adequate health care is not a fringe benefit. It is an essential human right and is at the core of what the labor movement fights to provide for its members. The labor movement is now suffering through the third year of the most anti-union Administration in the past hundred or more years. The Bush Administration made its position clear within a month of talking office. It intended to regard its friends and punish its enemies. And it counted organized labor among its enemies.
President Bush regarded, and still regards, labor unions as a threat to his election in 2000 and his re-election hopes in 2004. Al Gores base of support was in states like New York, where labor unions flourish. When he took office President Bush quickly acted to punish labor.
Four of his first seven Executive Orders attacked the rights of workers and their unions. All issued on the same day the orders revoked labor-management partnerships in the federal government, revoked successorship rights for workers when new contractors took over federal facilities, ordered federal contractors to post notices informing workers of their right not to join a union and pay full dues, and outlawed project labor agreements such as those in the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport project.