With Six Words, the Biggest Labor Union in the U.S. Just Shredded Scott Walker

With Six Words, the Biggest Labor Union in the U.S. Just Shredded Scott Walker

The leader of the largest organized labor alliance in the country welcomed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to the Republican presidential race Monday morning with one stinging sentence.

"Scott Walker is a national disgrace," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a press release emailed to reporters hours before the governor was scheduled to make his formal announcement in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha.

Bad blood: The animosity between Walker and organized labor can be traced back to 2011, when he signed legislation to strip public sector unions of key collective bargaining powers. In retaliation, labor leaders spearheaded a wave of massive protests and, eventually, a recall election. With big business stepping up to fund his second campaign in less than two years, Walker easily defeated the challenge.

Earlier this year, Walker took on the unions again, this time signing a bill to make Wisconsin the country's 25th "right-to-work" state. The new law allows workers in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying dues without fear of losing collectively bargained wages or protections. This has the practical effect of starving and eventually disempowering the union in future negotiations.

The relationship turned radioactive in February, when he was asked at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference what made him uniquely suited to lead the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

"If I can take on 100,000 protesters," Walker said, referencing his stand-off with mostly middle-aged teachers and students in 2011, "I can do the same across the world."

The hardcore conservative audience loved it, but pundits and political opponents seized on the comments, suggesting that Walker's strained comparison had effectively put the Islamic State group and peaceful American protesters in the same league. His campaign-in-waiting quickly sought to clarify his remarks — the governor himself went on CNN to say, "There's no analogy between the two other than a difficult situation" — but the damage was done.

Despite the stumble, the governor and his backers point to his triumphs over big labor as proof he has the grit and guile to stare down lesser conservatives and, down the line, the eventual Democratic presidential nominee. 

With his statement Monday, Trumka and the unions he represents have made it equally clear they plan to do everything in their power to prevent Walker from winning another, much more significant victory.