GOP Senator Markwayne Mullin—Winner of the Worst Anti-Labor Political Oscar in Congress March15, 2023
On March 12, 2023, Hollywood gave out its Oscar Awards, including those for Best Picture, Director, and Best Actor and Actress. What if the political world had an Oscar contest? IMHO, Democratic President Joe Biden clearly wins the Oscar for best labor President. He has been called by many people the most pro-labor president since FDR, or maybe ever. On his first day in office, Biden endorsed labor unions saying they were necessary “to counter corporate power, to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out.” Biden appointed Marty Walsh, Boston MA’s former mayor, to run the Department of Labor. Walsh had also led a local construction workers union (Kim, E., newyorker.com, 10/31/22). About one month after his inauguration, Biden went on camera to support a union at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Biden later fired a Trump appointee to the National Labor Relations Board (N.L.R.B.) who had tried to undermine that agency’s basic functioning, and replaced him with Jennifer Abruzzo. Abruzzo is a longtime N.L.R.B. staff attorney. This agency has targeted wage theft, misclassification of employees as independent contractors, harassment of organizers, and interference with unions. Biden, who grew up in a pro-union home and the then pro-union town of Scranton, PA never forgot his roots. Biden’s actions and beliefs about unions set the tone for other actions. Democratic attorneys general in many states are prosecuting employers who violate wage and hour laws. The number of private-sector workers trying to unionize is growing fast. These include workers at Amazon, Starbucks, Chipotle, Apple, and Trader Joe’s. Nearly 70% of Americans say they approve of such organizing. According to Alex Han, the organizing coordinator at Bargaining for the Common Good, a national labor-advocacy group, “There’s a general feeling that workers have a much friendlier environment (newyorker.com, Kim, 10/31/22).” Congratulations, President Biden on this well-deserved political Oscar!
Let’s now hand out the political Oscar for worst anti-labor member on Capitol Hill in the current 118th Congress. There’s a lot of “competition” for this award in the anti-labor GOP. However, one Republican beats all his competitors—Oklahoma 1st term U.S. Senator Markwayne Mullin (45). At a March 8, 2023 Senate hearing conducted by Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, GOP Senator Mullin told witness Sean O’Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, “You need to shut your mouth (theguardian.com/us-news, Pengelly, M.,3/09/23).” This is not the first time that people noticed Sen. Mullin’s provocative verbal comments and belligerent attitude. Mullin once had to reassure his own voters that he wasn’t Sylvester Stallone’s movie character “Rambo (See theguardian.com).”
The hearing that Sen. Sanders was conducting concerned the issue of corporate “union busting.” At this hearing, Sen. Sanders was seeking support for his “Protecting the Right to Organize Act (theguardian.com, 3/09/23).” A Senate hearing that should have been routine and calm turned heated and fiery (See cnn.com, Rimmer, M., 3/09/23, theguardian.com/us, 3/09/23, Pengelly). O’Brien, (51), is a fourth-generation teamster. He started out in “the rigging industry as a heavy-equipment driver in the greater Boston area,” according to the website of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (theguardian.com). At the hearing’s start, Sen. Mullin, who previously had registered an anemic 25% labor rating from the AFL-CIO (Cohen & Cook 2022 Political Almanac) stated, “I want to make it very clear. I’m not against unions. I’m not at all. Some of my very good friends work for unions.” Translation: some of my best friends are Blacks, Jews, union members, etc. Mullin continued, “They work hard, and they do a good job. Please don’t make the assumption that I’m anti-union, but I also want to set the record straight (cnn.com, Rimmer, 3/09/23).”
Mullin criticized the Senate panel for not discussing allegations of unions intimidating workers who do not want to join their organizations. Mullin pointed to his own experience where he alleged unions tried to intimidate him and his employees (cnn.com). Mullin said, “I’m not afraid of physical confrontation, in fact sometimes I look forward to it.” Sen. Mullin is a former mixed martial arts fighter (cnn.com). Mullin asked O’Brien about his salary and accused him of forcing members to pay union dues. O’Brien told Mullin, “You’re out of line.” At this point, Mullin exclaimed, “Don’t tell me I’m out of line,” and uttered his disgusting, “You need to shut your mouth” comment. O’Brien mocked Mullin’s “tough guy act.” Sanders tried to gavel the two men to order and told Mullin to “hold it.” O’Brien said to Mullin, “I bet you I work more hours than you. Twice as many hours.” Mullin responded, “Sir, you don’t know what hard work is.” O’Brien stated that unions “create more opportunity because we hold… greedy CEO’s like yourself accountable.” Mullin became angry over O’Brien’s “greedy CEO” remark. O’Brien asked Mullin what he made when he owned his (plumbing) company. Mullin stated he made “about $50,000 a year because he invested every penny.” O’Brien accused Mullin of “hiding money.” According to Business Insider, Mullin reported between $200,000 and $2 million in income in 2012 from two family plumbing companies and another $15,000 and $50,000 from shares he held in a bank, way over $50,000. In 10/2012, “The Tulsa World” reported that after Mullin sold his plumbing business to HomeTown Services, he was worth at least $31 million (businessinsider.com, Newsham, J.11/09/23). After Mullin kept making fun of O’Brien, Sanders told Mullin to “stay on the issue.” After this hearing, where Sen. Mullin behaved like one big bully, this spat continued on social media. Let’s look at Sen. Mullin’s background and record.
Tulsa, Oklahoma native Markwayne Mullin grew up in Westville, OK, a small town bordering Arkansas. He attended Missouri Valley College in 1996 but did not graduate from there. In 2010, Mullin received his Associate’s Degree in business from Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee, OK. The youngest of seven children, Mullin, like many Oklahomans, has Native American ancestry, in his case, membership in the Cherokee Nation. His father ran a small plumbing business which Mullin took over at age 19. He expanded his father’s business from six employees to over 100. Mullin hosted a local talk radio show “House Talk” that dealt with home repair. This talk show was syndicated across OK on Tulsa radio station KFAQ (Cohen & Cook 2022 Political Almanac, mullinforcongress.com/about-mullin, 6/14/13). Mullin additionally operated the Oklahoma Fight Club in Broken Arrow, a training center for jujitsu and mixed martial arts (Cohen & Cook 2022).
When conservative 2nd House District (HD) Democrat Dan Boren decided not to run again in 2012, Mullin entered the six- member GOP primary for this seat. The OK 2nd CD, formerly a strong Democratic area that included Muskogee, McAlester, and Claremore, was trending GOP. Mullin, with much of his own fortune, handily won the primary and runoff. He ran on a platform of it’s “time to fire Obama” as well as calling himself , “A businessman. Not a politician (Cohen & Cook 2022, mullinforgcongress.com/about-mullin, 2012 Mullin campaign site).”
In the House, Mullin was an outspoken conservative and a reliable vote for GOP leadership. He served in the House, from 2013-2022, and had no problem winning re-election. Currently, Mullin’s House district has a “Deep Red” R+15 Cook PVI (Partisan Voting Index) that he well represents (Cohen & Cook 2022). He supported making abortion illegal in all circumstances, including rape, incest, or if the mother’s life was at risk. In 2022, Mullin claimed that if his wife’s life were at risk during a pregnancy, neither he nor his wife would want to get an abortion (Patterson, M., 8/03/22, mullin-shannon -senate-debate-runoff). In 2020, Cong. Mullin introduced a bill that would effectively ban many transgender athletes from participating in programs corresponding with their gender identity (webarchive.org, 12/11/20). Mullin condemned the Supreme Court “Obergefell v. Hodges” decision that called bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional (votesmart.org). Mullin stated that the 2020 election had been stolen from Trump. He was one of 126 House GOPers to sign an amicus brief that went to the Supreme Ct., “Texas v. Pennsylvania.” This brief argued against Biden’s having won the 2020 election. The Supreme Ct. rightly threw out this case for lack of standing under the Constitution’s Article III (nytimes.com, Liptak, 12/11/20). Mullin voted against Biden’s key American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that gave needed relief to Americans fighting COVID-19. Mullin voted against Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan. Hypocrite Mullin received White House criticism for his stand on that issue because he himself had benefited from $1.4 million of federal PPP loan forgiveness (twitter.com/whitehouse, 8/25/22). The PPP or Paycheck Protection Program was a Small Business-backed loan (SBA) that helped businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 pandemic (SBA). At a 2017 town hall meeting, Cong. Mullin angrily denied that taxpayers were paying his House salary. He stated he was paying his own salary. As of 2022, Cong. Mullin still collects his $174,000 U.S. Congress salary (legistorm.com).
In 2/2023 OK GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe announced he would resign from his seat in 1/03/23, requiring a special U.S. Senate election. Mullin won a 13-field primary and the subsequent runoff on 8/23/22. On 11/08/2022, Mullin handily defeated his Democratic opponent, receiving 61.8% of the vote in “ultra-Red” Oklahoma (oklahoman.com/news/politics).
In the Senate, Mullin is on track to continue his strong right-wing reactionary record. That is no problem in economically and socially conservative OK. Oklahoma, remember, is a state populated by many people of Southern origin. The oil industry and evangelical religion, strong GOP supporters, remain extremely influential. Sen. Markwayne himself is a Pentecostal, a branch of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity (See Cohen & Cook 2022). Demagogue Donald clobbered Hillary and Biden in the Sooner State where he received 65% of the vote in both 2016 and 2020. In those elections, Clinton took 29% of the vote and Biden only upped that total by 3 points (Cohen & Cook 2022). We should not at all be surprised by Sen. Mullin’s anti-union stance. In 2022, union membership in OK accounted for just 5.5% of wage and salary workers. Oklahoma is an anti-union right-to-work state. A right-to-work state, as permitted by the anti-union 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, prohibits union membership as a condition of employment (google.com). Mullin can, therefore, ignore labor and keep getting easily elected in “Dripping Red” OK. However, if we want to help Biden enact labor’s progressive agenda, we must come out in droves in 2024 to vote for him, take back the House, and add more Democratic Senators. Anti-union Mullin must remain a Capitol Hill outlier.