After invoking the legacy of Ronald Reagan to suggest that striking United Auto Workers members should be fired for demanding higher wages, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., may soon find himself before the National Labor Relations Board. On Thursday, Shawn Fain, the president of UAW, filed a complaint claiming that Scott’s utterance violated federal labor law. Under the National Labor Relations Act, anyone can file a charge against an employer, even if they do not work for that employer.
The complaint accuses Scott of violating the section of the NLRA that lays out employees rights to participate in labor actions: “Within the past six months, the employer has interfered with, restrained, or coerced employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7 of the Act. On Monday September 18, 2023 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.’”
The complaint was filed against Scott in his capacity as a representative for Tim Scott for America. In addition to being a senator representing the state of South Carolina, Scott is running for president, making him an employer as well. The premise of the complaint is that Scott’s comments could be construed as a direct threat against his campaign staffers, whose right to strike is enshrined in federal law.
Scott’s comments appear to violate those laws, said Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor law at Harvard University. “A statement as direct as ‘if you strike, you’re fired’ is textbook unfair labor practice language because workers can’t be fired for striking,” Sachs told The Intercept. “If a reasonable employee could interpret the statement as ‘if I strike, I’m fired,’ then it is without a doubt an unfair labor practice violation.”
Sachs added that the National Labor Relations Board would likely rule that Scott must cease and desist from making similar comments and also inform employees of his violation in writing. “In some cases — and this NLRB general counsel seems more amenable to this — the employer is compelled to read their violation out loud or communicate it verbally to their employees,” Sachs said, referring to the NLRB’s top lawyer Jennifer Abruzzo.
Scott did not immediately respond to The Intercept’s request for comment. He made his remarks on Monday after he was asked at a campaign event about whether he would pick a side in the UAW’s ongoing strike against the Big Three automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. In response to the question, Scott referenced Reagan’s 1981 decision to fire over 10,000 striking air traffic controllers. “I think Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike,” Scott said. “You strike, you’re fired. Simple concept to me, to the extent that we can use that once again.”
“Telling workers they’ll be fired for striking is violating federal labor law, and that’s not something becoming of a senator,” Sachs said.
Scott went on to denigrate the UAW’s 150,000 workers, whose demands include a pay increase, the elimination of tiered pay scales, and the restoration of strong benefits. “The other things that are really important in that deal is that they want more money working fewer hours. They want more benefits working fewer days.” In “America, that doesn’t make sense,” the senator said. “That’s not common sense.”
The UAW strike started last week after the union’s contracts expired on Thursday night. Three auto plants have gone on strike so far, with more slated to join on Friday as the Big Three auto manufacturers continue to refuse to meet workers’ demands. In an interview with Status Coup on Wednesday, Fain told reporters that the strike is about more than just the autoworkers’ current contract negotiations — it’s also about pushing the boundaries of the possible.
“When I hear the phrase ‘live to fight another day,’ I want to literally beat the shit out of somebody,” Fain said. “It would drive me up a wall when I would hear a leader say ‘live another day.’ Another day came and went over and over and no one fought. This is our time. We call this our generation-defining moment. This is it. … The sky has to be the limit.”