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Comparative Analysis Labor Law Reform

Walker Draft

Comparative Analysis of Labor Law Reform under the Carter, Clinton, and Obama Administrations

Marquita Walker

Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis

Major labor law reform in the United States has not taken place since 1959 with the passage of the Landrum-Griffin Act. Two distinct opportunities for passage of major labor law reform took place in 1977 during the Carter Administration and in 1992 under the Clinton Administration. Each piece of legislation would have strengthened workers rights to collectively bargain against powerful employers, yet under a Democratically-controlled Congress and Senate, neither of these pieces of legislation was passed. There currently is another major piece of labor law legislation being debated on Capitol Hill known as the Employee Free Choice Act (EMFA). The fate of the EFCA lies in the hands of the Democratically-controlled 111th Congress and Democratic President, Barack Obama. This is an historic opportunity for organized labor and workers to once again strengthen workers ability to collectively bargain and arrive at a first contract. This paper is a comparative analysis of three opportunities and two subsequent failures since 1959 for labor law reform in the United States. To make this comparative analysis, I will focus on three components: presidential interest in labor law reform, the presidential relationship with the Congress, and the presidential relationship with the AFL-CIO and left-leaning unions. The merger of these three components impacts the success of labor law reform. I will suggest that if certain conditions exist in the upcoming 111th Congress, labor law reform, in the shape of the EFCA, has a good chance of becoming law.

Comparative Analysis of Labor Law Reform: The Carter Administration

Carters interest in labor law reform

Jimmy Carter came into office with the deck stacked against him. A Washington outsider, who really cared little for politics, Carters top priorities were a rapid reduction in unemployment, a curb on inflation without continued recession, more efficient budgeting, better coordination between fiscal and monetary policy, and more efficient and better government planning and management. Unemployment was at 8%, the country was coming out of a recession, and there were 7.5 million American unemployed with 1.4 million underemployed. [footnoteRef:1] Carters plan to facilitate these priorities was to restore a sound economic and domestic policy which focused on job creation, but upon entering the Oval Office, Carter faced a recession, high energy prices and stagflation. Rising Middle East oil prices, double-digit inflation, and the hostage situation in Iran in which American hostages were taken by Moslem fundamentalists dominated Carters agenda. Carters attempt at reform and social justice was to resuscitate a dying New Deal coalition, but his efforts faded in the face of Congressional power diffusion and sectionalism. One of Carters efforts, strongly encouraged by the AFL-CIO, was to pass some form of labor law legislation.[footnoteRef:2] There had been a 42 year lapse since the passage of the Wagner Act, and as Carter stated: [1: It was estimated that the economy operated at approximately $132 billion below its high employment potential. The country lost nearly $35 billion in Federal tax revenues and $10 billion in State and local revenues because of poor economic performance. See Summary and Outline of First-Year domestic accomplishments at] [2: See Burno, R. 1998. Presidential Labor Regimes: Democrats from Roosevelt to Clinton. Paper presented at the Industrial Relations Research Association. IRRAs Proceedings of the Fiftieth Annual Meeting. The AFL-CIO reluctantly endorsed Jimmy Carter as their bicentennial year candidate (16). Democrats believed they could recreate the liberal legislation that marked the Kennedy-Johnson years (16). ]

The purpose of this [proposed] legislation is to make the laws which govern labor-management relations work more efficiently, quickly and equitably and to ensure that our labor laws fulfill the promise made to employees and employersthat working men and women who wish to bargain collectively with their employers, in a fair way to both, shall have a reasonable and prompt chance to do so ("Action In Congress On 'Labor Reform' Proposals," 1978).

This major piece of labor law proposal took the form of H.R. 8410 [footnoteRef:3] and was sponsored by Representative Frank Thompson, Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey and Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Labor-Management Relations. The bill was introduced on July 19, 1977. An identical bill, S. 1883, was introduced in the Senate by Senators Harrison A. Williams, Democrat from New Jersey and Jacob R. Javits, Republican from New York. [footnoteRef:4] The bill was reintroduced by Senators Williams and Javits in 1978 as S. 2467. [footnoteRef:5] The full Committee on Education and Labor ordered H.R. 8410, as amended, reported favorably to the House of Representatives on September 22, 1977. After three more days of debate, the bill was passed by a 257-163 vote ("Action In Congress On 'Labor Reform' Proposals," 1978) [footnoteRef:6]. There were 36 Republicans who voted for the bill, and 59 Democrats who voted against the bill. [footnoteRef:7] S. 2467 went down in defeat by two votes after a filibuster lead by Senator Orin Hatch, a new Republican Senator from Ohio and Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana. [footnoteRef:8] [3: H.R. 8410, 95th Congress, 1st Session. 123 CONG. REC. H7397.] [4: S.1883, 95th Congress, 1st Session, 123 CONG. REC. S12116 (daily ed. July 19, 1977). ] [5: S. 2467, 95th Congress, 2nd Session, 124 CONG. REC. S874 (daily ed. Jan. 31, 1978). ] [6: On July 25, 1977, the hearing before the subcommittee on Labor-Management Relations, chaired by Rep. Thompson, were opened. Secretary of Labor Ray F. Marshall testified in favor of H.R. 8410, while others testified both for and against the bill. See ("Action In Congress On 'Labor Reform' Proposals," 1978)] [7: See Dark, 1999. All but six of the Democrats voting against the bill were from the South which leaves 221 Democrats (and 29 southern Democrats in the majority. This margin of victory was sufficiently large to ensure that the legislation would have passed even without a single Republican vote (109). ] [8: Hatch mobilized the longest legislative filibuster in the Senates history, taking the act to a record six unsuccessful cloture votes (to end debate). Hatch killed the bill and earned a reputation as bold legislator. ]

There were several complications which may have played a role or at least set the stage for the defeat of S.2467 on July 15, 1978. Carter and Senate Majority Robert Byrd delayed the vote on labor law reform in order to seek ratification on the Panama Canal Treaty. [footnoteRef:9] Consequently, the business lobby had more time to mobilize it forces to defeat the bill. Plus the delayed timing of the labor law reform bills vote meant that Carter had spent some of his political capital with liberal voters on the Panama Canal bill. To complicate the picture, a major strike by the United Mine Workers began on December 6, 1977 and evolved into a national bituminous coal strike which lasted for 110 days. [footnoteRef:10] In response to the job loss of the late 1970s, Herbert Humphrey, Democrat from Minnesota and Congressman Augustus Hawkins, Democrat from California, proposed the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act. This legislation set specific goals and requirements for the federal government in the areas of employment, production growth, price stability, and balance in trade and budget. Carter signed the legislation into law on October 27, 1978. [footnoteRef:11] [9: The Panama Canal Treaty gives up American control of the Panama Canal to Panama and guarantees its neutrality. It was signed on September 7, 1977 by Carter and Panamanian Chief of Government Omar Torrijos. ] [10: The right of local unions to strike was the cause of this work stoppage.] [11: The Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act (Pub.L. 95-523, 92Stat.1887, enacted October 27, 1978, 15 U.S.C.31013152, Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act), is an act of federal legislation by the United States government. The Act explicitly instructs the nation to strive toward four ultimate goals: full employment, growth in production, price stability, and balance of trade and budget. By explicitly setting requirements and goals for the federal government to attain, the Act is markedly stronger than its predecessor. {An alternate view is that the 1946 Act concentrated on employment, and Humphrey-Hawkins, by specifying four competing and possibly inconsistent goals, de-emphasized full employment as the sole primary national economic goal] (Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978. Public Law 95-523--Oct. 27, 1978.95th Congress)]

There was some movement on labor law legislation during the first two years of the Carter administration. A bill to increase the minimum wage passed raising the minimum wage to $2. 65 per hour in 1978 with incremental increases for the next three years.[footnoteRef:12] Also a bill to legalize common situs picketing, which would have allowed striking construction workers to picket other subcontractors at the same construction site, was defeated in the House by a vote of 217 to 205. [footnoteRef:13] Carter did support an extension of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).[footnoteRef:14] His most notable achievement was passage of the Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act of 1977 and House Bill 4544, the Black Lung Benefits Act o