Mitt Romney, a likely contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, joined a forum of business advocates in Northern Virginia on Thursday to denounce a union-backed bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, as little more than political payback from Democrats that would worsen the nation's economic footing.
The bill would be "catastrophic for the economy," Romney said.
The A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s president, Richard Trumka, called on Monday for Mitt Romney to dismiss Peter Schaumber as co-chairman of his campaign’s advisory labor committee because Mr. Schaumber, according to an inspector general’s report, had regularly received material improperly leaked by a Republican official at the National Labor Relations Board.
In addition to supporting a right-to-work-law, Romney has called for the repeal of a federal law requiring the prevailing local wage to be paid on public-works projects. He has pledged that on the first day of his presidency he would forbid any union preference in federal contracting and said he would fight rules allowing union dues to be taken out of paychecks to fund political activities.
Romney's message and his tone are popular talking points among Republican voters in most of the country, but they contrast sharply with the conciliatory statements he has made about labor in the past, particularly during his 2008 presidential campaign. His comments could haunt efforts by Romney and other Republicans to attract blue-collar workers and economically stressed voters in Michigan and nearby states.
But despite his admiration for the automotive industry and its workers, Romney sharply criticized its unions and organized labor in general. Romney lashed out at Obama for supporting card-check legislation, which labor advocates have said would make it easier for employees to form unions in their workplaces.
The former Massachusetts governor returned to his native Michigan, the historic heart of the nation’s organized labor movement, and assailed the practices of the United Auto Workers and other leading unions. Romney sounded off on card-check legislation that unions have pushed for years, as well as the very way in which labor unions exercise their influence in political campaigns.
There may be some dissonance between Romney and Ryan on unions more generally. Whereas Romney has tried to carve out a strong stance against labor on the trail -- even blaming unions for "disappearing industries and disappearing jobs" -- Ryan has spoken more sympathetically of organized labor.
Mitt Romney believes in the right of workers to join a union or to not join a union. To exercise that right freely, workers must have access to all the relevant facts they need to make an informed decision. This means hearing from both the union about the potential benefits and from management about potential costs. This also means being able to act on that decision in the privacy of the ballot booth.
Over the years, unions have made extraordinarily important contributions to American society. Many of the protections and benefits enjoyed by workers in the 21st century are the result of sacrifices and struggles and hard-won battles fought by unions in an earlier era. But today, the effects of unionization have changed in ways that need to be recognized. Too often, unions drive up costs and introduce rigidities that harm competitiveness and frustrate innovation.