GOP presidential candidate Tim Scott praised Ronald Reagan’s response to striking airline workers in 1981 during a Sept. 20 campaign stop in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
“Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike,” Scott said,” Scott told the crowd, CNBC reported. “‘You strike, you’re fired.’ Simple concept to me.” Scott, who like every other Republican candidate not named Trump, is struggling in voter polls, most likely praised Reagan because he knew it would play well with his audience, observers noted.
According to Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a law professor at the University of Indiana Bloomington, Reagan’s response was an ill-advised gamble.
“There never had a been a president so hostile to union workers, and it could have gone bad,” Dau-Schmidt said. “If one plane went down, Reagan would have looked like a goat.” Dau-Schmidt added, “But there were no major crashes, and conservatives now just say, ’You have to be tough.'”
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 established that workers in the private sector have the right to strike if they feel their working conditions are unfair.
Sharon Block, the executive director of the Center for Labor and a Just Economy, told CNBC that under that act, you cannot simply fire striking workers. However, there is no such provision for federal workers.
Scott was not spared the ire of those who felt like he was being hostile toward the labor rights of workers in general. The United Auto Workers, who are currently organizing a strike at Stellantis and GM parts manufacturing plants, filed a formal grievance with the National Labor Relations Board on Sept. 21 after Scott made comments
In the complaint, UAW President Shawn Fain said, “Tim Scott threatened employees with adverse consequences if they engage in protected, concerted activity by publicly responding to a question about striking workers as follows: ‘You strike, you’re fired.'”
Scott fired back at the union. “The UAW is one of the most corrupt and scandal-plagued unions in America. They are showing their true colors once again and autoworkers and taxpayers will be left holding the bag together. They want to threaten me and shut me up.”
Scott, like fellow Republican candidate Nikki Haley have represented South Carolina, a state that like most Southern states, can be seen as anti-union. In 2015, Vox reported that “Right To Work” laws, which can be interpreted as a set of laws that work against unions, had spread to almost half the country. Generally sequestered in Southern states, but spreading out to other parts of the country, these so-called “right to work” laws have demonstrated an ability to cut union membership.
The AFL-CIO’s website describes the cumulative effect of these “right to work” laws as follows: “These laws make it harder for working people to form unions and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”