People have come to think of Labor Day as the celebration of the end of summer, or the beginning of football season, or when it is no longer fashionable for women to wear white.
But people tend to forget that Labor Day was created by organized labor to celebrate the labor movement. So this Labor Day weekend brings me to contemplate the unlikeliest war of the past session of the General Assembly: the fight between the Republican-led legislature and organized labor.
The GOP, having won control of both houses of the North Carolina legislature for the first time since the 1800s, was spoiling for a fight with labor.
In doing so, they were following the Republican playbook of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and others.
But what they forgot was this isn't Ohio or New Jersey.
North Carolina is arguably the most anti-labor state in the country. North Carolina had the lowest rate of unionization of any state at 3.2 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Labor Department. By comparison, the rate of unionization in New Jersey was 17.1 percent.
Nor were big public employee unions breaking the banks of Tar Heel taxpayers. North Carolina and Virginia are the only two states in the country where there is a complete ban on collective bargaining by public employees.
This is such an anti-labor state, the AFL-CIO is threatening to boycott next year's Democratic National Convention because it is being held in Charlotte.
Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio are trying to roll back collective bargaining rights of public workers in their states. Public workers in North Carolina have never had such rights.
So why did the legislative Republicans go after labor?
Part of it was blowback from the 2008 and 2010 elections. Labor made a major push in North Carolina in the 2008 election, including spending $5 million to help carry the state for Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and for President Barack Obama, among others.
Hoping to be rewarded, labor pushed unsuccessfully for collective bargaining rights in North Carolina, both in the legislature and in Congress, when both bodies were under the control of their Democratic allies. The major concession they gained was that the Perdue administration last year agreed to set up a "meet and confer" process to discuss workplace conditions.
The N.C. Association of Educators, in particular, was involved in helping Democratic candidates, especially Perdue.
Republican lawmakers particularly went after the NCAE, trying to break the back of the organization. It passed a bill preventing payroll deduction of dues - a move Perdue vetoed. Despite a massive budget shortfall, the legislature for the first time offered liability insurance to teachers - a move designed to compete with a key service that the NCAE offers its members.
The legislature also either defunded or severely cut several teacher training programs - anything with a whiff of NCAE about it.
This was old-fashioned union busting, except that the NCAE is only a quasi-union.
Some argue that any organization that cannot engage in collective bargaining, cannot strike and which includes management (school administrators) in its membership is more of a professional association than a union. But the NCAE is a member of the National Education Association, one of the nation's largest unions.
The GOP legislature was selective. It did not target the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC), Local 2008 of the Service Employees International Union. SEANC has been less aligned with the Democrats.
Call it selective union-busting, divide-and-conquer tactics, or maybe just good ol' political payback time. But in the most anti-union state in the country, the Republican war against the NCAE might strike some as piling on.
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