It's a sorry way to kick-off a week's worth of labor activities leading
up to International Human Rights Day, but then who said it had to be a walk
in the park. Yesterday, a three-judge federal appeals panel in Chicago overturned
a Milwaukee County ordinance that actually helped working people organize. The
decision has national implications.
The now-moot ordinance, passed by the county Board of Supervisors in
2000, had required that contractors paid more than $250,000 for services agree
to remain neutral when facing efforts to organize their employees.
The ordinance was modest enough by union standards.
It did not require employers to recognize unions as a condition for
winning county bids.
It did not require companies to bargain with unions.
It did not abrogate an employer's right to manage.
All it required was that businesses performing county services had
to remain neutral during organizing drives. That meant: no intimidation; no
firings; no propaganda aimed at a captive audience; no dirty tricks. End of
In return, contractors got a sweetener: a pledge from union organizers that
there would be no work stoppages or strikes.
Sounds fair? It sounds like a terrific business deal for all parties, not least
for the county, which wanted to end work stoppages at companies like bus lines
that provided critical county services for those with disabilities, seniors
Well, not fair enough, it seems. The ordinance was opposed by the area's business
community, and the Milwaukee County Association of Commerce immediately filed
Judge Richard Posner, writing for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, nixed the
ordinance. He concluded that the agreement was "a pretext to regulate
the labor relations of companies that happen, perhaps quite incidentally, to
do some county work." The court ruled it an unconstitutional pre-emption
of federal labor law, specifically the rights of the Bush-controlled NLRB to
interpret labor law and labor standards.
Note the author of this egregious decision is the same Judge Richard A. Posner
who is heralded as a four-star public intellectual and expert on moral theory.
One of the first Reagan appointees to the federal bench, he's a major voice
in the conservative "law and economics" movement, writing scholarly
articles for the biggest of big-cheese venues, and with a frequency that others
write blog entries if not text messages. Plus, the prolific Posner has his own
Web site. With economic sociologist Gary Becker, he runs the right-leaning if
maverick Becker-Posner Blog.
The decision is not just bad; it's dispiriting, too, given the history of the
municipality it immediately affects. For much of two centuries Milwaukee was
an old socialist town in a state where even the Republicans were progressives.
It boasted a socialist mayor until the 1960s, and it sent Social Party leader
Victor Berger to Congress. Now it has a different breed of pol. County executive
Scott Walker told the Associated
Press that the county's own ordinance, installed by his predecessor, was
"yet another example of the roadblocks [the previous] administration put
in front of job creation and growth" in the county.
We know the kinds of jobs that proliferate when unions cannot organize -- Wal-Mart
career opportunities are just one example -- and when employers are not even
compelled to remain neutral. So much for respecting human rights on the anniversary
of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Even when you want to make peace, they make war.