David Rolf has led some of the largest union organizing campaigns since the 1940s. He is President of SEIU 775, The Workers Lab, Working Washington, and the Fair Work Center; International Vice President of SEIU; and the author of “The Fight for Fifteen” (New Press, 2016). Views expressed here are his own.
This post is part of a series on Labor in the Trump Years.
If one were able to magically scrub the embedded racism, misogyny and xenophobia from Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” one might conjure up an image of unionized America circa 1946-1976: high wages, high employment, stable jobs, good benefits; expanding investments in infrastructure, education, and home ownership; a growing economy that lifted all boats and created more middle class wealth than in any era before or since. “Solidarity Forever,” we would sing, to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, “for the Union makes us strong.”
But although Donald Trump spent precious few words on labor law and labor policy during his campaign, it’s fair to expect that single-party Republican control of all three branches of the federal government will bring only bad news for America’s already-fading unions.
Between now and at least 2021, the best scenario that union leaders can reasonably hope for from the Federal government includes hostile appointments to the NLRB, the DOL, and the judiciary; a rolling-back of progressive Obama-era efforts to modernize both NLRB election procedure and DOL overtime rules; the use of regulation, budget-writing, procurement, and other government powers to chip away around the edges of prevailing wages, wage and hour protections, workplace safety, and nondiscrimination; total or partial repeal of Obamacare; and some short-term job creation if the President-elect is successful in passing an infrastructure package and renegotiating trade agreements on more favorable terms (and assuming he is simultaneously unsuccessful in deporting 11 million wage-earners and triggering a depression by doing so).
A worse but equally likely scenario is a continued and concerted national campaign to weaken and shrink unions themselves. More right to work laws. The return of Friedrichs and its ilk. Continued assaults on public employee unions in the two-thirds of state houses controlled by conservatives. And legal challenges to the notion of exclusive representation itself, brought by adherents of previously obscure and cultish legal theories.