News & Commentary

November 4, 2020

Courtney Brunson

Courtney Brunson is a student at Harvard Law School and member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

As the final votes for the election continue to be counted, one can find final pitches made by individuals on both sides of the political aisle to voters about which presidential candidate better protects the interests of labor. Frank Christensen, the General President of the International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC), wrote an op-ed in The Hill entitled “Biden is labor’s best bet”. Christensen focuses on the job and income losses that resulted from, as he describes it, President Donald Trump’s failure to properly prepare for and handle the COVID-19 virus. He then goes on to explain that members of Trump’s cabinet and administration have also been anti-labor, including their reduction of alternative worker health insurance, refusal to extend unemployment benefits, and gutting of occupational and safety regulations. In contrast, John Fund wrote in National Review about how a Biden Administration would empower unions and create a federal standard that classifies workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Members of Trump’s Administration, like Under Labor secretary Eugene Scalia, have instead tried to aggressively tackle union corruption and enrichment at the expense of their businesses, according to Fund.

As same day election votes are being cast and counted, labor unions throughout the nation have threatened to strike if there are any threats to the enactment of a free and fair election.  Senior Advisor to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Michael Podhorzer, reiterated the messages made by the union’s President and Executive Counsel this month about the union’s role in protecting democracy by making the following comment to The Guardian: “We are not looking for a fight. We want the election results to be respected. We’re getting ready if they’re not respected because of what he said. We believe this is a country where what voters say matters.” In Chicago, Illinois, eight Chicago-area unions released the following statement on Monday: “Donald Trump wants to steal this election. We won’t let him, and we are prepared to engage in mass non-violent protest — up to and including a general strike of all working people, if necessary — to protect and defend our democratic rights.” Other unions in New York, Vermont, Washington have also made commitments to prepare for or hold general strikes or meetings in the light of a contested election.

As companies have begun to furlough large numbers of employees following the end of federal funding for COVID-19 relief, labor unions have begun to shift their bargaining priorities. For example, according to Bloomberg Law, unions representing American Airlines (AA) passenger service and reservation workers have begun bargaining for the jobs of their members–rather than pay raises or benefit improvements–after the air carrier furloughed 19,000 employees. Members of the Communication Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Teamster unions are currently in the process of negotiating a contract that expires on November 30th. United Airlines, the last major airline to negotiate a union contract, was able to do so in late September after obtaining pay concessions from their pilots to avoid layoffs. However, given that passenger service and reservation workers already make low wages, the article predicts that the AA union negotiators will have a significant undertaking.

Finally, LGBTQ+ community center and advocacy organizations, including Los Angeles LGBT Center, SAGE, and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, have brought a lawsuit against the Trump Administration to challenge Executive Order 13950. As you know, the order issued in September that threatens to defund federal contractors and grantees whom engage in diversity trainings or any trainings that mention or acknowledge systematic discrimination. The 53-page complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Argues that the order is unconstitutional because it violates First Amendment freedom of speech protections.

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