Unions face hard struggle in the age of Trump


Leaders of organized labor in the United States face in Donald Trump what may be the most anti-union administration since before Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The New Deal gave labor unions a legal right to bargain collectively and enter into binding contracts.   Subsequently so-called “right to work” laws imposed on unions the obligation to bargain collectively even for workers who choose not to join the union.

Many observers expect the Trump administration and Republican Congress to enact a national right to work law.  Under such a law, workers could join a company with a union contract, refuse to join the union or pay dues and enjoy all the benefits of the contract.   Why, union leaders ask, would anybody join a union if they could enjoy all the benefits of union membership without any of the obligations?

Trump’s likely choice for Secretary of Labor is said to be Andrew Puzder, head of the parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl Jr. restaurant chains.  He is an outspoken opponent of minimum wage increases and of Obamacare.

Other contenders who’ve been mentioned in the press are Victoria Lipnic, one of two Republican members of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and  Scott Walker, the fiercely anti-union Governor of Wisconsin.

Here’s what Robert Verbruggen of The American Conservative thinks unions can expect from a Trump administration.

Trump’s “100 percent” support of right-to-work laws—the bane of private-sector unions’ existence—is a good place to start. Republicans have gained ground in the states, where these laws are typically enacted, and the Republican platform supports right-to-work as a federal, nationwide policy.  [snip]

Trump could also undermine unions by stocking federal agencies with right-leaning appointees. Federal labor law is vague on many important details, leaving agencies like the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to set policy as they see fit. President Obama took full advantage of that leeway, and Trump can be expected to as well.

Obama’s NLRB … … took numerous controversial steps that could be undone in a subsequent administration.  As the Wall Street Journal put it, Obama’s board “has rejected class-action waivers in employment arbitration; made it easier for contract workers and other temporary employees to unionize; paved the way for student unionization on campuses nationwide; [and] potentially made it easier for unions to organize fast-food workers and hold franchisers in a range of industries to greater liability in labor matters.”

It also greatly expanded the use of “micro-unions,” meaning that when a union lacks the support it needs to organize a whole workplace, it can instead organize one small part at a time, like the cosmetics department at a Macy’s store.  The board also allowed “ambush” or “quickie” elections, meaning that employers can have as little as ten days to make a case against unionization before workers vote.

Public-sector unions could also become a target. The case Friedrich v. California Teachers Association et al., for example, recently ended in a 4-4 Supreme Court tie, setting no precedent and leaving open the possibility that another case could address the same issue soon. 

The issue in question: whether it violates the First Amendment to require public employees, as a condition of their employment, to fund an inherently political organization like a union.

Judging from Antonin Scalia’s comments at oral argument, the Supreme Court would have struck down this practice 5-4 had he not passed away before the ruling came down.  A Court with a new Trump justice would likely reach the same result, allowing public employees to simply opt out of paying their union dues and thereby gutting public-sector unions.

Source: The American Conservative

Here’s the view of Ed Kilgore of New York magazine.

Aside from Trump’s pledge to renegotiate NAFTA and other trade agreements, there’s really nothing in his history or his campaign platform to please the labor movement. Yes, he has boasted of getting along with union people in running his hotels and other businesses, but that does not really separate him from any other employer operating in places like New York.

He has very specifically endorsed “right-to-work” laws that keep unions from receiving membership dues from all employees in a shop where they are the recognized collective-bargaining agent.

More tangibly, his massively pre-vetted list of potential replacements for Justice Antonin Scalia and a Republican Senate prepared to confirm a right-wing justice will virtually guarantee a fifth vote making the collection of representation fees from non-members benefiting from public employee union contracts unconstitutional once the Friedrichs v. CTA case (which generated a 4-4 tie the last time SCOTUS heard it) makes its way back to the High Court.

That encouragement of “free riders” will be a terrible, terrible blow to public employee unions, by far the most vibrant segment of the labor movement.

Another likely opportunity for Trump to quickly screw over workers will be as part of his pledge to reverse all of Barack Obama’s executive orders on day one of his presidency.

That will include Obama’s imposition of a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave for the employees of federal contractors.  An even bigger pro-labor Obama administrative initiative that will be the target for business lobbies and vengeful anti-union Republicans are the new, expansive overtime regulations promulgated by the Labor Department earlier this year.

But some of the most important administrative rulings on labor law come from the National Labor Relations Board, including a 2015 decision that would make large companies operating through franchises responsible for the working conditions of franchise employees (a huge issue with the fast-food industry).

There are currently two vacancies on the five-member board; if Trump moves quickly to fill them with appointees congenial to the Republican Senate, a case could pretty rapidly be found to overturn that rule, to the great joy of prominent Trump supporters like Andy Puzder, CEO of the company that runs the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains.

Source: New York

I now realize that President Obama was more pro-union in his final years than I gave him credit for.   I had thought he had pretty much turned his back on organized labor when he failed to give more than token support to Card Check, a law that would have made union organizing easier.

The USA needs a strong labor movement.  Organized labor is the only institution that represents the interests of working people as a whole—black and white, men and women, immigrant and native-born.   It represents people power, which is the only offset to money power.  The right to join a labor union without fear of reprisal ought to be legislated as a civil right.

I don’t deny the importance to labor unions of having the government on their side.  But there were labor unions in the USA before there was a National Labor Relations Board or a Secretary of Labor.   There are labor unions in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.   There will be labor unions in Donald Trump’s USA.


Labor Under Trump by Buzz Malone for Jacobin.

What Trump’s Secretary of Labor Could Do by Alexia Fernandez-Campbell for The Atlantic.

Trump’s Labor Secretary Could Be the Fight for Fifteen’s Worst Nightmare by Justin Miller for The American Prospect.

Trump and the Unions by Robert Verbruggen for The American Conservative.

Trump Is Shaping Up As a Nightmare for Labor by Ed Kilgore for New York magazine.

Think It’s Tough for Labor Now? Just Wait Until Trump Takes Office in January by Moshe Z. Marvit for In These Times.

This Is Not a Drill: Labor Braces for the Trump Era by Mark Brenner for Counterpunch.


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