About a year ago, the induction of the late President Ronald Reagan into the US Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor frankly shocked many working people.
As the New York Times wrote in 2011: “More than any other labor dispute of the past three decades, Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.”
Ironically, PATCO had refused to endorse the Democratic Party because of “poor labor relations with the FAA (the employer of PATCO members) under the Carter administration and Ronald Reagan’s endorsement of the union and its struggle for better conditions during the 1980 election campaign.”
But when the union declared a strike in August 1981, “seeking better working conditions, better pay, and a 32-hour workweek, …Reagan declared the PATCO strike a “peril to national safety” and ordered them back to work under the terms of the Taft–Hartley Act.
“On August 5, following the PATCO workers’ refusal to return to work, Reagan fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life…” [Bill Clinton ended the lifetime ban.]
“The FAA had initially claimed that staffing levels would be restored within two years; however, it would take closer to ten years before the overall staffing levels returned to normal.
“In 2003, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, speaking on the legacy of Ronald Reagan, noted: ‘far more importantly his action gave weight to the legal right of private employers, previously not fully exercised, to use their own discretion to both hire and discharge workers.'”
“On March 1, 2018, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta inducted President Ronald Reagan ” – the “only president to lead a major union”, the Screen Actors Guild – “into the… Hall of Honor, which was established in 1988 to honor Americans whose distinctive contributions have elevated working conditions, wages, and overall quality of life for American families.
“As a worker, an advocate, and a public official, President Ronald Reagan worked to unleash opportunity and prosperity for all Americans… As President of the United States, he returned a sense of economic optimism to our nation that resulted in the creation of millions of jobs for the American people.”
“America once had at least an implicit norm guiding wages… From roughly the end of World War II through much of the 1970s, real (cost of living-adjusted) wages increased in tandem with gains in productivity.
“More recently, analysts have begun to recognize that the long-term decline in unions and worker bargaining power accounts for a sizable portion of the problem [of stagnant wages].
“It is no coincidence that the gap between wages and productivity began to expand dramatically around 1980, a turning point for collective bargaining.” Clearly, there were other factors, but the decline of unions, championed by the Labor Department’s honoree, Ronald Reagan, certainly contributed to that.