As the battle between business interests and organized labor heats up in the wake of two major political defeats for Big Labor over the last six months — the failed Wisconsin recall efforts and Michigan’s adoption of right-to-work legislation — it’s not likely that labor union interests will find the appointment of South Carolina Congressman Tim Scott to replace outgoing Senator Jim DeMint to be good news. Scott’s record on issues related to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and organized labor suggests that he won’t be any friendlier to those interests than DeMint once he crosses over from the House to the Senate in January.
As in Michigan and Wisconsin, labor issues have been the stuff of headline news in South Carolina since the 2010 elections. While the failed attempt by the NLRB to keep Boeing from opening a 787 production facility in the Charleston area was the most visible action by the Board in the state, the Board also threatened to take the state to court to keep it from enacting legislation to codify the 2010 referendum in which over eighty percent of state voters voted for an amendment to the state’s constitution which would protect the right of workers to decide workplace issues via secret ballot.
While in the House, Scott was very active on right-to-work issues. During the last session of Congress, he sponsored three bills which were intended to curtail the reach of the NLRB and union activity in workplaces:
• H.R. 2810 – The “Employee Rights Act,” had it been passed, would have required the use of secret balloting to unionize a workplace and a renewal vote every three years. It would also set guidelines on how these elections are to be conducted.
Scott was also active in efforts by House Republicans who met in pro forma session during the last Congress in an effort to prevent potential presidential recess appointments to the NLRB. As part of these efforts, Scott regularly traveled to Washington to hold sessions to keep the House from adjourning in an effort to keep President Obama from bypassing the confirmation process by seating board members via recess appointments. He also took part in a special House hearing held near the site of the Boeing facility in which House members grilled the agency’s chief legal counsel about the Board’s efforts against the South Carolina facility.
Given Scott’s level of involvement on these issues, it’s likely that few would be surprised to see that Scott received very low scores on the labor union legislative scorecards for his legislative record for the last session of Congress:
• AFL-CIO: Voted with them on just one out of 20 votes in 2012 and received a zero score in 2011.
• AFSCME: Zero score.
• SEIU: Voted against their position on 8 out of 9 bills, no score assigned.
In a Heritage Foundation interview earlier this year, Scott said union leaders saw him as “THE anti-union legislator in America, especially in the South,” to which he responded, “I’m not anti-union, I’m just pro-workers.” He went on to point out that the views held by leadership differed from rank-and-file union workers he’d spoken with, saying that “the longer you have a talk about the legislation [his three bills in the last session], you find that they’re saying ‘that’s not so bad after all’.”
As the Senate is responsible for confirming the appointment of NLRB board members, Scott would have even more influence over the appointment process than in the House. As a Senator, he could go from simply working to curtail the agency’s powers to having a direct role in deciding who would sit on the agency’s Board. There are those who are involved with these issues who expect him to continue watching the NLRB and organized labor closely once he crosses over to the Senate.
A Washington, D.C. labor attorney active in right-to-work issues believed Scott’s appointment could put a strong anti-Big Labor voice in the Senate, saying that “if Scott chooses to remain active on these issues, he very well could be a lot more aggressive as a Senator.” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson praised Scott as “a firebrand and a stalwart,” especially during NLRB hearings in Charleston, and added that Scott “asked the right questions, said the right things and has the right views.”
While it remains to be seen what direction he’ll take in the Senate, given South Carolina’s right-to-work status, low union membership and strong Republican political lean, Scott will likely have plenty of incentive to continue in the same direction on this issues, while facing very little risk. Should South Carolina’s newest Senator take the same approach with these issues in the Senate as he did in the House, organized labor interests won’t likely find Tim Scott to be a welcome addition to the Senate.
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