I’ve written before on how the decline of organized labor beginning in the late 1970s gave birth to the backlash that fueled Donald Trump’s election.
Labor’s deterioration weakened worker protections, kept wages stagnant and caused income inequality to soar to the highest levels in over eight decades. It also made workers feel they needed a savior like Trump.
In other words, his unlikely victory follows a straight line from the defeat of the Labor Reform Act of 1978 to the election of 2016. That bill would have modernized and empowered unions through more effective recognition procedures accompanied by enhanced power in negotiations. Instead, its death by filibuster became the beginning of their end.
It’s a sad twist of irony that Trump’s election and Republican dominance across the country may finally destroy once and for all the institution most responsible for working- and middle-class prosperity. It will likely be a three-punch fight, ending with a fatal blow: the expansion of right-to-work laws across the country that would permanently empty the pockets of labor unions, eroding them of virtually all their collective solidarity.
In 1980, union membership density stood at 23 percent of the work force; some 40 years later, just over 11 percent of American workers belong to unions. During the same period, wealth inequality in the U.S. continued to accelerate largely on a social class basis.
White males without college degrees reacted to their ongoing misery in 2016 with a political transformation unrivaled since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s electoral victory in 1932. The election’s postmortem pundits offered differing explanations for Trump’s victory, including racism, sexism and the ennui of Hillary Clinton supporters.
A popular narrative argues that deteriorating economic conditions provided the fuel for the Trump conflagration as it swept through the former union strongholds of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.
Despite the enthusiasm of his working-class supporters, Trump’s economic policies would bring them a raw deal, not a New Deal. Three key areas will play a crucial role in union diminution and workers’ bargaining power during Trump’s administration, with further declines in real hourly earnings.
The first is regulatory. On his inauguration, Trump has the opportunity to appoint two new members to the National Labor Relations Board now controlled by Obama appointees with administrative discretion to implement pro-labor decisions. With their new majority, Republican appointees will have a smorgasbord of past cases and regulations to repeal and replace. Trump’s future replacements undoubtedly will promote a business-friendly agenda, and the board’s shift in emphasis will be immediately apparent.
The second is the Supreme Court. If Trump fills the vacant seat with someone in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia, the new court will likely uphold what in my view is the rickety constitutional theory of union dues put forth by Samuel Alito in Knox v. SEIU. Alito’s rule holds that public sector union members have a constitutional right to decline dues payments unless they consent to do so. Or, in Alito’s words, dues payers will be deemed to “opt out” of dues unless they “opt in.”
In early 2016, the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which would have mandated a constitutional right-to-work rule, stalled out with Scalia’s demise, but a similar case is moving through the lower federal court system that raises the matter once more. The litigation will eventually work its way back to the Supreme Court, and the new Trump justice can affirm the undoing of public sector union dues.
The third and most lethal blow against unions, along with board and court hostility, is the expansion of right-to-work laws as a by-product of Trump’s victory.
December 6, 2016
The anti-labor plans of Trump and allies
Richard Brenneman - Trump and his allies want to kill organized labor. And given their impending control of all three branches of the federal government, they just might accomplish it, warns Raymond Hogler. Professor of Management at Colorado State University, in an essay for the open source academic journal The Conversation: