Marick Masters quoted about Ronald Reagan in Wall Street Journal
Former President Ronald Reagan, who sparred with labor unions during his presidency, was named to the Labor Department’s Hall of Honor on Thursday, with the agency citing his leadership of Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild and his support of the Solidarity movement in Poland.
The late Mr. Reagan will be the first president to receive such recognition, announced by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in a speech Thursday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. In the Hall of Honor, the president will join labor leaders such as the auto workers’ Walter Reuther and farm workers’ Cesar Chavez.
During his presidency, Mr. Reagan fired more than 10,000 unionized air traffic controllers who were on strike in 1981. That event is widely seen as a turning point for the diminished role of organized labor in the workplace and political arena, though the decline in unionization rates began in the 1950s.
“To put him in the same class as Walter Reuther, Cesar Chavez and [mine workers labor leader] John Lewis is a remarkable stretch,” said Marick Masters, who leads Wayne State University’s labor research center in Detroit. Breaking the air-traffic controller’s strike “symbolically gave a green light to those who wanted to take a more aggressive stance against unions.”
However, Mr. Masters said globalization and unions’ inability to adjust are more to blame for the sharp dropoff in union membership since the early 1980s than Mr. Reagan.
Mr. Reagan’s firing of air-traffic controllers, who were determined to be striking illegally, remains part of the political discussion. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, when he was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in 2015, praised the former president’s actions and attempted to draw a connection to his own battles with public-sector labor unions.