Playing the Trump Card: How Unions Fare under President-Elect Trump

By: Sydney Spinner

Where does the country stand under a Trump Presidency, when blue-collar workers are one of the key constituencies that propelled Trump into the White House,[1] but as a businessman, his practices are often anti-union, pro-employer, and with little regard for the plight of workers?[2]

Historically, the Republican Party has pledged “to protect more effectively the rights of labor unions.”[3]  Eisenhower even championed the unions in 1956, when his campaign said “[t]he protection of the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively is the firm and permanent policy of the Eisenhower Administration.”[4] Since then, the Republican party has gone a different route and the 2016 platform includes: “attacks [on] the use of the Fair Labor Standard Act to protect workers; rips [on] the use of Project Labor Agreements to raise wages and improve working conditions; and propos[als] to gut the 85-year-old Davis-Bacon Act, which guarantees “prevailing wage” pay for workers on federal projects.”[5] The party has come a long way from the Eisenhower days; we are faced with President-Elect Donald J. Trump, a businessman who purports that “ having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country.”[6]

Donald Trump has been a businessman his entire life, and is often attacked for his treatment of employees at his hotels, golf courses, and other businesses. [7] He is actually known as a businessman who fails to pay his employees, who often win lawsuits to obtain the compensation they were entitled to in the first place.[8] As someone who wants to “Make America Great Again,” and someone who wants bring back jobs to America,[9] he does not practice what he preaches, and actually hires immigrants over American workers.[10] Some of his employees actually pledged to vote against him before Election Day.[11]

So how did this anti-union business tycoon get elected? Against the urging of the AFL-CIO, many union members and their households voted for Trump.[12] While many polls indicated that Clinton would do exceedingly well with union voters (as almost every union endorsed her),[13] Trump wound up exceeding expectations and garnered a significantly higher number of union voters than expected because he appealed directly to the workers.[14] His outreach to blue-collared workers, and his promises of a better tomorrow, led to a significantly higher number of votes from union members than anyone could have imagined.[15]

What does this actually mean for labor unions? In spite of proposed policies that will favor big business,[16] many union workers hope “the America that they hope the president-elect can make great again is one from an era in which unions were strong and incomes more equal, the mid-20th-century period that economists call the Great Compression.”[17] It will be interesting to see which side of history Donald Trump comes out on.

Will Trump take the Republican Party back to the Eisenhower days, or will he make American Big Business Great Again? The latter appears to be true.[18] IATSE President Matt Loeb said it best “[t]he middle class and working people are in jeopardy of experiencing severe consequences based on the positions and proposed policies espoused by President-elect Trump. Moreover, his anti-union statements virtually guarantee a rough road ahead for unions and the members they represent.”[19]

Trump America could either lead to the demise of unions, or lead to a resurgence of their power and popularity, but either way, there is a rough road ahead for unions because if Trump keeps his word, unions (and their workers) could be sent back decades, if not centuries.[20]

[1] Vin Gurrieri, Trump Spells Trouble for Obama’s Employment Legacy, Law360 (Nov. 9, 2016, 2:40 AM), http://www.law360.com/employment/articles/855904/trump-spells-trouble-for-obama-s-employment-legacy.

[2] John Nichols, Donald Trump is the Anti-Labor Day Candidate: Running Against Fair Wages, Workers Rights, and Unions, The Nation: Election 2016 (Sept. 4, 2016),  https://www.thenation.com/article/donald-trump-is-the-anti-labor-day-candidate-running-against-fair-wages-worker-rights-and-unions.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7]  Steve Reilly, USA TODAY exclusive: Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills, USA Today (Sept. 6, 2016), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/06/09/donald-trump-unpaid-bills-republican-president-laswuits/85297274.

[8] Id.

[9] Make America Great Again, http://www.makeamericagreatagainpac.com (last visited Nov. 14, 2016).

[10] Maegan Vazquez, Donald Trump Turned Down Hundreds of American Workers and Hired Immigrants Instead, Indep. J. Rev. (last visited Nov. 14, 2016)  http://ijr.com/2016/02/546532-donald-trump-turned-down-hundreds-of-american-workers-and-hired-immigrants-instead.

[11] Donie O’Sullivan & Tiara Chiaramonte, The Trump workers voting against the boss, CNN: Pol. (last updated Nov. 2, 2016, 10:44 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/19/politics/the-trump-workers-voting-against-the-boss.

[12] Dave Jamieson, It Looks Like Donald Trump Did Really Well With Union Households. That’s A Bad Sign For Unions., Huffington Post: Pol. (Nov. 9, 2016,  2:27 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-did-really-well-with-union-households_us_582367d0e4b0aac62488cc32.

[13] Gurrieri, supra note 1.

[14] Jamieson, supra note 12.

[15] Id.

[16] Nichols, supra note 2.

[17] Michael Kazin, The Fall of the Unions Paved the Way for Donald Trump, WSJ, (Nov. 11, 2016, 12:57 PM), http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fall-of-the-unions-paved-the-way-for-donald-trump-1478886094.

[18] David Robb, IATSE: Trump’s Election Will Have “Severe Consequences” For Workers & Unions, Deadline, (Nov. 9, 2016, 11:07 AM), http://deadline.com/2016/11/donald-trump-iatse-workers-unions-severe-consequences-1201851766.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

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