A vote for Trump and the GOP is a vote to destroy unions
The Republican Party and President Trump have declared war on unions. The two prongs of their crusade include stacking the deck against unions by selecting anti-union/pro-corporate ideologues to key positions in each branch of government and, second, revamping federal laws, rules and regulations to rig the system in favor of corporations and against unions. A second Trump term would be like the first term – except on steroids. The administration will fully subvert the rights of workers to organize; bargain collectively; improve their wages, benefits and working conditions; and improve the quality of life of all workers. Conversely, the power of corporations will be expanded. The ability of unions to represent the interests of workers may never recover from such an onslaught. Union supporters and leaders must do all they can to ensure that Trump and the Republicans running for the Senate are defeated in the coming election and prepare a massive mobilization response to any attempt by Trump to steal a close election.
PART ONE: STACKING THE DECK - ANTI-UNION REPUBLICANS DOMINATE ALL THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT
The famous saying "personnel is policy" is quite relevant to the Trump administration. Trump and the Republican majorities in the Senate and Supreme Court have combined to stack the deck against unions and rig the system in favor of Big Business. Anti-union appointees now dominate all three branches of the federal government: the executive branch (the White House and federal administrative agencies); the legislative branch (Senate); and the judicial branch including majorities on the Supreme Court and federal appellate courts.
EXECUTIVE BRANCH – Anti-Union/Pro-Corporate Appointees Are in Charge
All the major executive branch agencies dealing with labor related issues are led by appointees who had proven anti-union/pro-corporate records as illustrated below.
White House Staff. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was a member of Congress from 2013-2020. He was given an 8% lifetime rating by the AFL-CIO and 0% by the Communications Workers of America. Conversely, Meadows was given a lifetime rating of 77% by the US Chamber of Commerce and 95% by Freedom Works (a notoriously conservative, libertarian and anti-union group that was associated with the Tea Party and later Donald Trump).
Department of Labor (DOL) The DOL enforces 180 federal laws and thousands of regulations covering 10 million employers and 150 million workers.
- Secretary of Labor. Eugene Scalia had a 20-year history of working for Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, a prominent corporate law firm, where he fought against worker protections such as health and safety, retirement security and collective bargaining rights.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is being temporarily run by Loren Sweatt who has dutifully implemented the administration's anti-worker policies and expressed the desire to stay in her position if there is a second Trump term.
- Wage and Hour Division head administrator, Cheryl Stanton, spent her career defending employers in wage and hour cases.
- Mine Safety and Health Administration is headed by David Zatezalo who was chief executive of Rhino Resources, a coal company that had numerous clashes with MSHA officials during the Obama administration over many health and safety violations which he is now responsible for enforcing.
National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB is a New Deal agency established to enforce the National Labor Relations Act which gave most private sector workers the right to join a union and take action to protect and improve their wages, benefits and working conditions.
- Chair and Board Member John Ring previously served as a partner with the notoriously anti-union law firm of Jackson, Lewis whose website stated that he specialized in representing management interests, "most notably in the context of workforce restructuring [layoffs] and multiemployer bargaining."
- Board member William Emanuel was a partner at the union-busting law firm of Little, Mendelson.
- Board Member Marvin Kaplan was a government lawyer working for anti-union members of Congress helping them draft legislation to weaken worker protections.
- General Counsel Peter Robb spent much of his career as a management-side labor and employment lawyer. Robb was a key figure at the NLRB under President Reagan defending the administration's 1981 firing of more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers and legitimizing the "permanent replacement" of striking workers.
Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA's regulation of pollutants directly impacts workers in the workplace and in their communities.
- EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. According to opensecrets.org, Andrew Wheeler was a former energy industry lobbyist where he lobbied against mine safety regulations, opposed the Obama administration's attempt to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, and fought for federal subsidies for coal plants.
- Susan Bodine, the EPA's assistant administrator, formerly worked for Barnes & Thornburg, a law and lobbying firm that represented the American Forest & Paper Association. Many other EPA appointees at EPA have corporate ties.
United States Postal Service. The Trump administration has chosen clearly anti-union, pro-corporate individuals to key positions.
- USPS Board of Governors is dominated by Trump appointed pro-corporate members. The board chair Robert Duncan was CEO of Inez Deposit Bank; CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (a lobbying group representing coal and utility corporations infamous for its denial of the climate crisis); and former chair of the Republican National Committee.
- Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was CEO and is still a major investor in XPO Logistics, a company that does business with USPS. DeJoy received $1.7 to $7 million from the company last year. USPS has increased its business with XPO since DeJoy became Postmaster General.
Department of Education. Secretary Betsy DeVos is a very rich and prolific Republican party funder. Her father was a billionaire industrialist and her husband was the billionaire founder and CEO of Amway. She has a long history of supporting, funding and founding anti-union and pro-privatization groups.
LEGISLATIVE BRANCH: Anti-Union/Pro Corporate Republicans Control the Senate
Anti-union/pro-corporate Republicans dominate the Senate. The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has enormous power. For example, he alone determines whether bills can even be considered and what amendments can be offered in the Senate. McConnell has a lifetime AFL-CIO rating of just 12% and a US Chamber of Commerce rating of 91%. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has significant power over labor related issues. The HELP committee is chaired by Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Alexander has a lifetime AFL-CIO rating of 19% and a US Chamber of Commerce rating of 93%.
The core of the Republican Party strength is concentrated in the 27 Right to Work states. As discussed in a previous article, Right to Work laws are designed to weaken unions by cutting their revenue and membership. Unions represent just 7.5% of the workforce in right to work states but almost 16% in "fair share" states. The 27 "right to work" states account for 83% of the currently seated Republican Senators and 70% of their Representatives. In 2016, Trump carried 25 of the 27 these states.
JUDICIAL BRANCH – Anti-Union/Pro Business Judges Dominate the Supreme Court and Appellate Courts
The Republican Party has worked for a long time to ensure that the federal court system is dominated by conservative, pro-business/anti-union judges over the long term. Indeed, Republicans basically packed the court system when Senate Majority Leader McConnell refused to allow the Senate to vote on 105 judicial vacancies during the Obama administration which were later filled by Trump appointees.
Supreme Court. The Supreme Court now has 6 Republican appointed justices and 3 Democratic Justices. Each of the three Trump appointees had a proven anti-union/pro-corporate bias before being nominated.
- Amy Coney Barrett. During her term on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett ruled in favor of corporate interest more than 75% of the time. She ruled that corporations are entitled to set job requirements that exclude older workers and that they may segregate workers at different locations by race. She has also expressed support for striking the entire Affordable Care Act which would deprive health insurance for 20 million people and end protections for 100 million people with pre-existing conditions.
- Neil Gorsuch. During his term on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch repeatedly ruled against workers and in favor of corporations. For example, Gorsuch dissented from a majority ruling upholding a National Labor Relations Board decision that an employer must give full back pay to workers it illegally fired for union activity. Gorsuch dissented in cases in which the circuit court majority supported pro-worker NLRB decisions stating that the NLRB exceeded the scope of its authority. However, Gorsuch made no such dissent when the court ruled in favor of NLRB decisions that supported management.
- Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh served on the extremely important US District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This court is second only to the Supreme Court in terms of prestige and power because it has jurisdiction over Congress and most federal regulations and agencies. The People for the American Way compiled a list of rulings showing that Kavanaugh consistently ruled against workers and for corporations during his 12½ years on the DC Circuit Court. Examples include Kavanaugh's opinions that would "entirely eviscerate collective bargaining;" his support for corporations seeking criminal citations for lawful union protests; and support for corporations that failed to protect workers health and safety.
Other Federal Courts. In almost 4 years Trump and the Republican Senate have appointed 24% of all active federal judges (194 of 792). There are 35 more nominations currently pending. Trump has appointed 30% of all active federal appeals court judges (54 of 179). This is more than any other president over the last 40 years. Overall, Republican appointees now account for 54% of all federal circuit court judges. The circuit courts are especially powerful because they function as final arbiter for the vast majority of cases since the Supreme Court accepts fewer than 2% of the 7-8,000 cases filed with it annually. These courts ultimately determine what the federal government can and cannot regulate – this is especially important to unions in relation to the right to organize and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions as well as the relative power of unions and corporations.
PART TWO: REPUBLICANS & TRUMP RIG THE RULES AGAINST UNIONS AND FOR CORPORATIONS
The Republican dominated executive, legislative and judicial branches have conspired to rig the laws, rules and regulations governing our political economy against unions and for corporations. The Brookings Institute maintains an up-to-date compilation of the Trump administration's deregulatory actions in a number of areas including labor, health, covid-19, education and environment. The Economic Policy Institute has itemized 50 anti-union actions taken by these branches of government against workers and provided an even more detailed analysis in another article. Here are some of the highlights.
- Dismantling the Right to Join a Union and Collectively Bargain
- Stripping the right to organize a union and collectively bargain from millions of workers at companies like Uber and Lyft (NLRB), graduate students (NLRB) and federal government workers including the determination that unionizing 750,000 Department of Defense workers would be a threat to national security.
- Expanded management rights to undermine unions by granting management the power to determine which group of workers will be eligible to vote in an organizing election and be covered by a negotiated contract (NLRB).
- Defunded unions by preventing public sector unions from requiring workers to help pay for the costs the union incurs for representing them in collective bargaining, arbitration and grievance procedures (Supreme Court)
- Initiated the process to privatize government services that are heavily unionized including the US Postal Service (USPS) and public schools (Department of Education).
- Reduced Good Paying Union Jobs. Trump's policies that were supposed to create jobs, actually eliminated jobs.
- His 2017 tax cut provided incentives for corporations to offshore jobs by applying a 21% corporate tax rate for income earned domestically, but a 10.5% tax rate for profits earned offshore.
- His China trade policy led to a 21% increase in our trade deficit with China and a resulting loss or displacement of 700,000 US jobs.
- Reduced Wages. The Trump NLRB pushed through rules that prevented 8.2 million workers from obtaining overtime and cut $1 billion in wages by ruling that Lyft and Uber workers are individual contractors not subject to federal protections. The Republican Senate refused to consider a bill passed by the House to establish a $15 an hour minimum wage which would have increased wages for 33 million workers. The Trump administration stated that it would veto such a bill even if passed by the Senate.
- Eroding Pension Security by Defunding Social Security. President Trump issued an executive order permitting companies to stop withholding payroll taxes. Trump also promised that "If I'm victorious on Nov 3, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax." The Social Security Administration stated that the Trump plan would deplete the Social Security retirement trust by 2023 at which time it would stop paying out benefits.
- Denying and Reducing Health Insurance. Congressional Republicans and Trump have repeatedly attempted to pass legislation to eliminate Obamacare. The Trump administration also joined Republican state officials in suits contending that Obamacare is unconstitutional (a contention upheld by a Republican dominated appeals court). More than twenty million people will lose health insurance if these attempts are successful and 100 million would lose protections for previous conditions.
- Eroded Workplace Safety and Health. Examples include OSHA's refusal to issue any required measures—via an emergency temporary infectious disease standard—to protect workers from the coronavirus; the Department of Labor's exclusion of millions of workers from paid leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA), including 9 million health care workers and 4.4 million first responders; and significant reductions in OSHA and Mine Safety inspections.
PART THREE: TRUMP MUST BE DEFEATED TO SAVE UNIONS AND BLUNT THE ANTI-UNION REPUBLICAN OFFENSIVE
A vote for Trump, a 3rd party candidate or not voting at all is a vote to irredeemably harm unions. This is not to say that Biden and the Democratic Party are the second coming of FDR and the New Deal. However, Biden and the Democrats are not out to destroy unions and, at the very least, will blunt the corporate/Republican anti-union crusade. And, at best, Biden and the Democrats will enact pro-worker legislation to the degree that unions and progressive groups are mobilized and activated. While the Democrats represent the possibility of pro-worker legislation especially if pushed by mass mobilization, Trump and the Republicans are out to destroy unions no matter what we do.
Progressives must ensure that Trump is not reelected: A second Trump term would be like his first term but on steroids – unions may not recover. If Trump is reelected, he will take all the anti-union policies of his first term to a new level. He will do this especially because a second Trump term will be characterized by its vindictiveness. Trump has an established pattern of viciously attacking any of his supporters who he considered to have been disloyal. And it is even worse for any groups and individuals he perceives as enemies – and he definitely perceives unions as enemies because they have almost universally endorsed Biden. Thus, Trump and the Republicans will extend, expand and institutionalize their efforts to eviscerate workers' rights to organize and collectively bargain and erode wages, benefits and working conditions for millions of Americans. In addition, they will expand management rights and further increase the inequitable concentration of income, wealth and power in the hands of the corporate and billionaire elite. A second Trump term will irreversibly debilitate unions and their ability to countervail the power of corporations.
Trump will be able to implement his anti-union crusade even if the Democrats maintain control of the House and obtain a majority in the Senate. He has proven that Congress is basically toothless when confronted by a president who does not play by the established rules and norms of government. He has proven that he can effectively rule by executive order – and that the anti-union judiciary will sustain his policies. The big business/Republican party attack on unions will be even worse if the Republicans continue to control the Senate and, thus, the court system.
Mass mobilization and civil disobedience must defeat any attempt by Trump and the Republicans to steal the election. All progressive groups should be prepared to engage in mass civil disobedience in response to any attempt by Trump and Republicans to steal the election if Biden wins. There are many articles that examine such scenarios including Vox, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and many more. Possibilities include lawsuits that wind their way to the Supreme Court where a 6-3 Republican majority hands Trump a victory. Another scenario is for Republican controlled state governments to use their power to override voters in a narrow election. There could be significant attempts to invalidate mail-in votes. Yet another strategy is to delay results, create chaos in the electoral college and then throw the election to the House of Representatives where Republicans control more state delegations. We must be prepared for any of these possibilities. The stakes are too high. Unions – and the entire progressive movement - may not survive another Trump term. All progressive groups should call for mass civil disobedience. Unions – and progressive groups in general – should call for and implement a a range of mass action including a general strike, a range of rolling strikes or a mass slowdown. A number of local/regional labor councils have already passed resolutions supporting mass worker mobilizations. Such a strategy would entail a vast amount of educating, organizing and resources in a short period of time. It would also be risky – what if most workers failed to heed the call? Wouldn't that reveal a basic weakness in the labor movement and make its leaders unpopular with their membership? These are risks that pale in comparison to the gutting of unions that would occur with a second Trump term. Major crises call for significant and courageous actions.
Kenneth R. Peres retired as chief economist of the Communications Workers of America. Formerly, he served as economist for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Montana House Select Committee on Economic Development, and the Montana Alliance for Progressive Policy. Ken has held teaching positions at the University of Montana, St. John's University, Chief Dull Knife College, and the City University of New York. He obtained a PhD in economics from the New School in New York City.