President Trump delivered his first address to Congress last night, in which he called again for increased spending on infrastructure projects and efforts to increase the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States. No details of these plans were provided, though unions and businesses have begun lobbying to secure portions of the predicted infrastructure package. A meeting with television news anchors before the speech partially overshadowed the event, though, with Trump apparently indicating some willingness to discuss an immigration compromise that would allow many undocumented workers to remain in the country.
The Los Angeles Times reports on the growing number of restaurants introducing automated ordering or production to reduce labor costs, including Wendy’s, which just announced that more than 1,000 restaurants will receive self-service kiosks by the end of 2017. The chain’s chief operations officer called the installations an initial step in replacing “repetitive production tasks” with automated systems.
In other news from Washington, as part of an effort to promote job growth through the reduction of regulations, the Trump administration ordered the EPA to begin rolling back an Obama-era regulation that had subjected a number of previously exempt waterways and wetlands to additional pollution standards. Businesses, especially farmers and developers, had objected to the increased burdens the rule placed on economic activity in regulated areas, though sport fishing and hunting groups supporting the rule argue that significant economic benefits have accrued in newly clean waterways.
The teachers union in the nation’s second-largest school system reelected its president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, by a large margin yesterday. United Teachers Los Angeles called the result a clear mandate for Caputo-Pearl’s plans to fight back against school reforms supported by the Trump administration that could harm students and weaken unions through an increased reliance on private and charter schools.
President Donald Trump’s executive order banning entry from seven majority-Muslim nations has dominated the news over the past 48 hours. Though a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York stayed large portions of the order Saturday night, news outlets continue to report on the ongoing implications of the ban, especially for the numerous workers from the targeted countries who had regularly traveled to and from the United States. Politico and the Washington Post examine the effect the restrictions may have on employers—especially tech companies and those using H-1B visas—while the New York Times delves into the consequences the order could have for professional athletes.
In other news, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has issued a troubling new report analyzing the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data on union membership, which indicates that both public and private sector unionization rates dropped in 2016. Despite union members continuing to earn a significant premium over nonunion workers, private sector union membership now consists of only 6.4% of workers. This represents the lowest rate of union membership since statistics began being recorded by the government, with declines being particularly steep in recent right to work state states such as Wisconsin, which has lost 40% of its union members since a 2011 law barring most public sector collective bargaining.
Finally, the New York Times looks at the ongoing failure of the federal government to provide health care for soldiers exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity while cleaning up after atom bomb tests on islands in the Pacific Ocean during the late 1970s. Inadequate safety equipment and poor monitoring of radiation exposure may have contributed to elevated cancer rates among workers involved in efforts to restore the islands to suitability for human habitation.
Charlie J. Morris is Professor Emeritus at the Dedman School of Law, Southern Methodist University.
This is a piece whose unlikely outcome is based on wishful thinking. It’s what I want to believe, not what I really believe. But whether I’m right or wrong, the information that follows should prove useful for general understanding of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or Act) and its policy, and perhaps someday for improving the functioning of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board).
As a result of the Presidential election, there is one evidentiary fact on which there’s wide agreement, which is that an unacceptable level of economic inequality exists in America. Inasmuch as Donald Trump made a major campaign promise to “rebuild our economy for working people,” he now faces the prospect of having to seriously address that condition. Although this is one of the few areas in which Democrats may find common ground with his administration, there will obviously be substantial disagreements as to what steps should be taken to move toward the common objective of bettering the lot of the American middle class. And further complicating those limited areas of agreement are the areas where the Trump campaign is, or will be, at odds with conventional views of the Republican establishment—especially the Republican Congress. The extent to which the Trump administration will be willing to pursue objectives that differ from traditional Republican positions is mostly unknown. For example, If one assumes the possibility of President Trump prevailing in intra-party disagreements concerning matters involving labor-relations—which is pure wishful thinking—a fundamental question arises as to whether he might actually oppose some of the extreme anti-union positions that have long been hallmarks of the Republican establishment and perhaps even initiate some reasonable actions that favor both organized labor and the economy as a whole.
At first blush such occurrences seem unlikely—if not impossible—but Trump’s public statements and his extensive labor-relations record have created an area of mystery that makes this unlikely possibility worth examining. As we all know, Trump changes his positions readily and is full of surprises. A potential subject for one such unlikely surprise has crossed my mind. But before examining that subject, we should first look at its likely setting and at Trump’s known record as an active participant in union-management relations, all of which can be contrasted and compared with his public statements.
Kate Andrias is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.
This post is part of a series on Labor in the Trump Years.
As others have written, including on this blog, the Trump presidency could be devastating for unions—and for workers generally. The administration is likely to oppose any increase to the minimum wage; facilitate roll backs of overtime protections; support the expansion of right-to-work, including as a matter of constitutional doctrine; and appoint leaders to the various labor agencies who lack a commitment to enforcing civil rights, worker safety, and wage and hour laws. Also expected are appointees who seek to eviscerate collective bargaining and organizing rights under the NLRA.
Notwithstanding these and other serious threats, despair is the wrong reaction for several reasons.
First, the election underscored the importance of unions. To the extent commentators, including some Democrats, had depicted unions as unnecessary relics, the error of that position should now be clear. Worker organizations are key institutions for equalizing power in the economy and in the democracy. Their decline helps explain the current state of the American economy and politics. As Jake Rosenfeld wrote here, “[u]nions remain the only set of mass-based organizations that connect working-class Americans to politics.” Unions are also some of the few institutions in America through which working people can come together across boundaries of gender, race, and ethnicity, to advance their shared interests. Finally, unions are self-funded membership organizations. Historically, such civil society organizations have served as critical bulwarks against authoritarianism.
This post is part of a series on Labor in the Trump Years.
The challenge facing unions following Donald Trump’s victory is a familiar one. Trump, a twenty-first century robber baron, won the election by using a playbook familiar to nineteenth century robber barons: he divided workers by race, religion, and national origin, and successfully fanned the flames of bigotry. Throughout the history of this country, workers have gained power only when they have overcome these prejudices and figured out how to join together with other workers who have a different skin color, who have come to this country more recently, who have different religious beliefs, who speak a different language, who celebrate different holidays, and who eat different foods.
If you read your labor history, you see over and over stories of employers trying to undercut worker organization by bringing in other workers of dissimilar backgrounds. This happened in the nineteenth century when workers from Southern and Eastern Europe were hired by mining companies (often all lumped together as “Slavs” the same way that Central American immigrants are now often collectively referred to as “Mexicans”) to fill jobs that had previously gone to workers of Welsh, Irish, Scottish, or German ancestry. On a recent visit to Ellis Island, I saw anti-immigrant political cartoons from the early twentieth century that could have been drawn today, except for the immigrants’ country of origin. For instance, one cartoon depicted immigrants as rats bringing diseases into the country. But, Ellis Island also featured a large photograph of a picket line from that era where garment workers carried signs in four different languages.
Jon Hiatt is Executive Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff at the AFL-CIO.
This post is part of a series on Labor in the Trump Years.
Rather than slice and dice the electorate into different demographics and voting blocks, we have to understand what happened on November 8 not as a vote for or against the two candidates. Rather, it was something much larger. It was an expression of the insecurity of working people all over the formerly industrialized world, brought on by globalization forcing them to compete for work in a labor market without borders. Candidate Trump was correct when he said “I see a big parallel” between U.K. voters favoring Brexit and U.S. citizens supporting him. Both were expressions of the belief that existing institutions of government are no longer protecting the security and well-being of working people in a global economy.
Union officers who talk to their members will tell you that the insecurity and anger underlying the vote was real. And they will also tell you that if that insecurity and anger is not addressed, they will threaten liberal democracy and slow or even reverse our halting progress toward equality.
Both candidates were right that we need to rebuild our physical infrastructure to compete in the global economy, but we also need to rebuild the infrastructure of government and society – most centrally the institutions that speak for working people, their unions. If we revive U.S. manufacturing without unions, we will not bring back good jobs. Factory jobs and jobs in the mines were not good jobs until they became union jobs and the same will be true in the future.
Long before Donald Trump eyed the presidency, U.S. unions understood what our trade policy was doing to working America. Standing against Democratic presidents, unions opposed NAFTA and unions opposed TPP. Unions have called for an industrial policy that would train U.S. workers for high value-added occupations, rebuild our infrastructure, bring opportunity to disadvantaged communities, and create green jobs.