Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker announced a plan on Monday to rein in organized labor, returning to a battle that has brought the Wisconsin governor national attention as he tries to energize his struggling campaign.
Walker’s four-part “Power to the People” plan calls for eliminating federal employee unions and the National Labor Relations Board, making every state a so-called “right to work” state and ending special-interest giveaways that drive up costs for taxpayers.
"Just like President Reagan, I believe we need to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.," he told an afternoon town hall meeting in Las Vegas.
The two-term governor's rise to national prominence started in early 2011, just weeks after first taking office, when he proposed a plan that would effectively end collective bargaining for most public workers in Wisconsin.
In the face of large and angry protests, Walker managed to get the changes through the state legislature, then made history in 2012 by becoming the first U.S. governor to prevail in a recall election, staged by Democrats and other critics.
“Just as Walker successfully implemented commonsense reforms in Wisconsin that took power away from the big-government special interestsand gave it back to hardworking taxpayers,he has a plan to do so in Washington,” his campaign said Monday.
Walker, a favorite among fiscal and social conservatives, began his highly anticipated White House campaign in mid-July with 11 percent of the early vote, about 5 percentage points below his high mark of 16 percent in April.
However, he is now at 5 percent, according to the most recent averaging of polls by the non-partisan website RealClearPolitics.com.
And a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday shows him at 3 percent among likely caucus-goers in Iowa, which in February becomes the first state to vote in the presidential primary.
Shortly after the start of his second term, Walker made Wisconsin a right-to-work state, which means workers are no longer required to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
Several of Walker's proposals are focused on unions for workers at all levels of government, while others would also affect private-sector unions. Labor law experts said such an effort, if successful, would substantially reduce the power of organized labor in America.
Some of the proposals could be enacted by presidential executive order, but others would require an act of Congress or changes in federal regulations.
"In 2012 ... federal workers spent more than 3.3 million hours that year doing union work, instead of serving the government," Walker said in an op-ed piece Monday for the website Hot Air. "It’s a scheme that could only have been hatched in Washington. ... As president, I would stop that influence cold by eliminating federal government unions and returning power back to where it belongs: in the hands of hardworking taxpayers."
The Democratic National Committee immediately criticized the plan, calling it a “far-reaching, extremist (and) anti-middle class agenda.”
Experts were taken back by the scope of Walker's proposals, which seek to undo decades of law and would gut the landmark National Relations Labor Act -- adopted in 1935 and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of the Great Depression.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Ann Hodges, a professor at the University of Richmond who has studied labor law for more than 40 years. "This will take the breath away from anyone who's worked in labor relations for any length of time."
Walker's plan also calls for prohibiting automatic withdrawal of union dues to be used for political purposes and forbidding union organizers to access employees' personal information, such as their phone numbers.
His decision to focus on fighting unions at the national level comes as he and other candidates look for a way to stop the surge of fellow GOP presidential candidates and billionaire businessman Donald Trump.
This weekend, the Walker campaign announced that the governor was backing out of an event in California and in Michigan to focus on Iowa and South Carolina, another early-voting state.
The 47-year-old Walker says he intends to be more aggressive in the second GOP debate, on Wednesday in California, but isn't concerned about his standing in the race.
"I think if people are looking for someone who is truly going to shake things up and wreak havoc on Washington," Walker said at a recent campaign appearance. "I'm the only one on that stage that fits the bill."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.