President Trump has championed many issues straight out of organized labor’s wish list – he is pressing manufactures not to ship jobs overseas, he has promised $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, he has threatened a 35% tariff to slow down Mexican imports, and he has vowed to overhaul NAFTA.
While President Reagan lined up support from only a few unions, Trump is wooing many unions and their members directly, from carpenters to coal miners to autoworkers.
“Trump is working to be the blue-collar president – you’re already seeing that in his outreach to unions,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center. “Some unions are warming up to Trump because labor leaders are following their members.”
Though when President Trump spoke recently to the construction unions’ legislative conference, some union officials – unhappy about his push to repeal Obamacare and his rolling back of some worker safety regulations – booed him and held up signs saying, “Resist.”
“Trump is doing what both Nixon and Reagan tried to do: pick out a few of the likeliest unions and see if you can make nice with them. While the Reagan administration had numerous officials interested in working with unions, it, like the Trump administration, also had fiercely anti-labor officials.
The fall out of this dynamic is that the nation’s unions are divided into three camps regarding President Trump.
The construction trades are the most pro-Trump. Many liberals have criticized the enthusiastic words that Sean McGarvey, president of the North America’s Building Trades Union, has for President Trump, but McGarvey wisely believes it’s smart to work with politicians.
The strongly anti-Trump camp includes the Service Employees International Union, the National Education Association, and several federal, state, and municipal employees’ unions. These unions oppose the federal hiring freeze, the proposed budget cuts, repealing Obamacare, and are aghast at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s antagonism toward traditional public schools.
Then there’s the ambivalent, middle camp, including the autoworkers, steelworkers, and machinists unions. They applaud Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pack and his vows to bring back factory jobs, to renegotiate NAFTA, and Mr. Trump’s tough stance on Mexican trade. Yet, at the same time they slam his policies on immigration and Obamacare.
As someone who makes a living in the world of labor relations, the web of relationships, frenemies, and strategies that have already begun is fascinating.
Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.