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.
The week ended with some good news, as the Commerce Department reported GDP growth of 2.9% for the third quarter — the highest rate we’ve seen in two years. Wages and benefits were also up, according to the Labor Department. POLITICO reports on what these strong numbers might mean for Donald Trump — who has built his campaign on a message of economic doom and gloom — as the election nears.
Speaking of which, a new poll from the AFL-CIO reveals that Trump’s popularity among union members is waning, with only about 30% still supporting him. The AFL-CIO — which has endorsed Hillary Clinton — and other unions are now ramping up efforts to get out the vote for their candidate, with a plan to contact millions of voters before the election. POLITICO has more.
Meanwhile, some working-class voters still question whether Clinton is the right candidate for them. In its latest issue, The New Yorker discusses the Democratic Party’s complicated past with the working class — and Clinton’s chances of winning them back.
After a long stretch of stagnating sales and customer dissatisfaction, Walmart recently reported an uptick in business. How did it do it? Higher wages for its workers, according to The New York Times. The retail giant — once famous for its cost-cutting — has flipped the script, offering better pay and more training opportunities for its workers. And the results have been promising. For a nation still struggling with slow productivity gains, Walmart’s wage experiment could hold important lessons.
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s leaked-tape scandal, polls have shown that he has lost support among one of his most important constituencies: the white working class. This latest tumble in the polls has been due in large part to white working-class women; although Trump still maintains a lead over Hillary Clinton among white blue-collar male voters, Clinton has now pulled even among their female counterparts. POLITICO examines this gender gap, reporting on the growing rift between white working-class women and the GOP.
Meanwhile, as more women come forward with sexual harassment allegations against Trump, a national conversation has started about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. NPR discusses the persistence of the problem — last week, fifteen McDonald’s workers filed harassment charges with the EEOC — while Fortune offers a look back on its long history in the American workplace.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association has dedicated over $9 million to combat the ballot initiative that would lift the current cap on charter schools throughout the Commonwealth, reports The Boston Globe. Over 1,600 of the union’s registered delegates voted to earmark the funds over the weekend at an annual meeting held at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center. They also used the time to reelect Barbara Madeloni to another two-year term as president. Madeloni says that the money will be used to catalyze a grass-roots movement that will “reclaim public education from corporate interests.” Yet whether there is the momentum for that movement remains unclear. According to a recent Globe poll, more than fifty percent of likely voters said they would support lifting the charter schools cap, while thirty-three percent said they were opposed and sixteen percent undecided.
The New York Times featured Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and his call for “conscious capitalism” in an article over the weekend. The Times caught up with Secretary Perez while he was in New York City promoting companies, like Union Square Hospitality Group and Managed by Q, that are raising wages, increasing employees perks, and embracing other socially-responsive policies, all without government direction. Secretary Perez told the Times that the key to improving working conditions for America’s workforce is to convince more companies in the business community that it is actually in their self-interest to help their employees. “It’s not a zero-sum world where you either take care of your workers or you take care of your shareholders,” he told the Times. “You can do good and do well, too.”
An Uber passenger-turned-driver describes her disillusionment with the company, and with ride-sharing more generally, in an Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times. Enticed by stories of drivers making $4,000 to $6,000 a month playing cabbie, Sandra Vahtel joined the Uber ranks when she found herself short on cash. But for Vahtel that promised payday never came. On one of her first days on the job she grossed just $11 an hour before gas, insurance, and income tax. Yet the take home pay was not the only problem for Vahtel. Because Uber threatens to deactivate drivers’ accounts if their rating falls below 4.6 stars, Vahtel found herself under constant stress as disgruntled passengers docked her for behavior that was unintended or simply out of her control. She laments, now, for having patronized ride-sharing services at the expense of traditional full-time taxis. “I’ll join the half of rideshare drivers who quit within a year and go back to being a passenger — one who no longer complains about an $18 fare to get across town.”