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October 08, 2002

Bush Declares War on Labor

Bush is officially seeking a Taft-Hartley injunction in the dockworker lockout.

Update: It turns out that Bush's own mediator had negotiated a 30-day extension of the union contract, which the ILWU had agreed to. Management had not, so Bush rewarded them with a Taft-Hartley injunction. On CNN, AFL-CIO's Rich Trumka declared that this was the first time in American history that a Taft-Hartley injunction had been issued during a lockout. He condemned the Bush administration's collusion with management.

Here are some actions you can take in support of the dockworkers:

  • a link to send a message to retailers who have promoted the injunction
  • ILWU's activist toolkit of sample support letters and resolutions.
  • Vote in this online poll against Bush injunction

    To understand why issuing an injunction will be seen as an act of war by unions, you might want to read this recent law journal article about the historic of role of injunctions in crippling the union movement. Read Death by Legal Injunction co-written by law professor Michael LeRoy quoted in the article above.

    Below is an excerpt about how the Supreme Court has distorted the meaning of "health and safety" in the law to allow injunctions where they were never intended:

    "In advocating injunctions of national emergency strikes, Senator Taft made clear that a strike must not only affect a substantial part of "an entire industry," but also it must "imperil the national health or safety, a condition which, it is anticipated, will not often occur." 289 In several strikes, however, the Supreme Court expanded the meaning of "national health or safety" to mean national inconvenience.

    This debate on definitions was at the heart of the steelworkers' strike in United Steelworkers of America v. United States. 290 Their work stoppage began on July 15, 1959, and continued until an injunction was issued on October 20. 291 On October 9, the President ordered formation of a board of inquiry, and ten days later the Board issued a report upon which the Attorney General relied in seeking a strike injunction.

    The issue before the Court was whether the strike imperiled the nation's health or safety. The government contended that the term "comprehends the country's general well-being, its economic health." The Steelworkers countered that the term meant "the physical health of the citizenry." Relying on the board of inquiry's findings that the strike affected national defense, the district court issued its injunction. In a per curium ruling, the Supreme Court accepted the Government's interpretation with little explanation...

    [IN dissent, Justice] Douglas saw classic symptoms of the old labor injunction lurking in the district court's order. [See here for the decision and Douglas's dissent] By exceeding its lawful scope, this injunction unfairly curbed the economic rights of union workers.

    Labor injunctions were long used as cudgels--so broad in scope, so indiscriminate in application as once to be dubbed a scarecrow device for curbing the economic pressure of the strike [citation omitted]....The same indiscriminate leveling of those within and those without the law is present....It is not confined to the precise evil at which the present Act is aimed. Like the old labor injunctions that brought discredit to the federal judiciary this is a blanket injunction broad and all-inclusive, bringing within its scope men whose work has nothing whatsoever to do with the defense needs of the Nation.
    In relating this injunction to the judiciary's blemished history, Douglas found that this injunction was also wrong because it interfered with free collective bargaining to the disadvantage of labor.

    Aside from the resemblance of this district court and its injunction to an unsavory past, Douglas also believed that the restraining order misconceived congressional intent on national safety and health. "This seems to me to be an assumption that is unwarranted. I think that Congress, when it used the words 'national health,' was safeguarding the heating of homes, the delivery of milk, the protection of hospitals, and the like."

    Posted by Nathan at October 8, 2002 02:47 PM

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    Nathan, it might be useful if you'd explain why we labor folks are against use of T-H in this instance, even though as a formal matter it would be the company (locking-out) that would be enjoined. For myself -- speaking as a labor lawyer -- I'm very much against it, as a precedent-setting thing (because a finding that this lockout imperils the nation would be precedent for a similar finding to shut down a strike next time, in any of various industries). I'd also be wary that an injunction would perhaps be issued against the workers in this instance as well as against the company, just "for good measure" even though they're not on strike; and that would be bad law and bad policy, in my view. If you have time, can you say more about this, or other reasons why labor doesn't want an injunction against mgmt here? Sam

    Posted by: Sam Heldman at October 8, 2002 04:36 PM

    See this additional post for Sam's answer.

    Posted by: Nathan Newman at October 8, 2002 05:50 PM

    Nathan--any thoughts on what happens if ILWU goes back, but works to rule?

    Posted by: Matt Weiner at October 8, 2002 06:07 PM

    Such injunctions almost always include slowdowns in their ban. ILWU might try to argue their "work safe" campaign is not a slowdown and given the employer lockout, they might get sympathetic judges who don't enjoin them. But I wouldn't bet on it.

    Posted by: Nathan Newman at October 8, 2002 06:28 PM

    If you could find the link (I'm not that web savvy to attempt it) there was a very interesting interview on the NewsHour w/ Jim Lehrer. Two even headed professors. Last week, mgmt was so arrogrant, I wanted to slap my tv screen.

    If there's a union member in america that votes republican, they deserve to be screwed by bush.
    I'm sick of everything being related to national security.

    Posted by: a union household at October 8, 2002 07:41 PM

    So, the Labor Department is going to seek an injunction that officially prevents the dockworkers from obeying workplace safety regulations? Is that what it adds up to? Sheesh.

    Posted by: Matt Weiner at October 8, 2002 07:45 PM

    Before I start Christmas shopping, where can I get a list of stores and products being unloaded thanks to G Bush II so I can boycott them?

    Posted by: m donaldson liebers at October 9, 2002 02:23 AM

    Of course it is about management knowing a Bush Administration would back them that they locked out the Union in the first place. Collusion began long before the long out. Bush is all too happy to rewrite the U.S. Constitution because a conservative Supreme Court primarily selected by Reagan-Bush I will give him the vote of confidence necessary.
    Interesting that management and corporate America has, since before the Great Depression, complained about how harmful regulation by the government is; however, they are ask for government regulation when it suits their needs, to increase profits on the backs of labor.

    Posted by: Paul Medus at October 9, 2002 08:57 AM

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