Labor Movement Regroups After Surprise Trump Win

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By Tyrone Richardson

Nov. 9 — Labor leaders are assessing how to continue pushing a labor agenda despite having endorsed the losing presidential candidate.

Many of the nation’s labor unions endorsed Hillary Clinton (D), who pledged to push for policies to improve the lives of working people. Her loss Nov. 8 to Republican Donald Trump threatens to reverse some pro-union policies, including the Labor Department’s “persuader” rule, industry observers told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 9. That rule requires employers to disclose their hiring of anti-union consultants.

It will “take some time to get used to the fact that Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States,” the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America said Nov. 9 in a written statement. The union vowed to continue to “hold President-Elect Trump to his promises to advance the middle class.” Similar comments were made by the 600,000-member International Association of Machinists and the 1.3-million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Unions Willing to Work With Trump

“As a labor union, we deal with those whom we disagree with every day at the bargaining table,” IAM president Robert Martinez said in a written statement. “We try to find common ground. That’s exactly what we intend to do in this new reality. There’s things we won’t compromise on: racism, sexism, common decency and respect. We will always stand up when people are mistreated.”

Large unions such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Service Employees International Union and United Steelworkers either declined to comment or did not respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment as of early evening Nov. 9.

Later that day, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka released a written statement congratulating Trump on his win and vowing to stay committed to the federation’s goals.

“The President-elect made promises in this campaign—on trade, on restoring manufacturing, on reviving our communities,” Trumka said in a written statement to Bloomberg BNA. “We will work to make many of those promises a reality. If he is willing to work with us, consistent with our values, we are ready to work with him.”

Trumka’s statement came hours after the AFL-CIO, which represents 56 member unions, canceled a news conference at its Washington headquarters. The event was intended to detail the federation’s impact on the 2016 election and plans to move a pro-worker agenda, according to the announcement.

Rough Road Ahead for Labor Unions

Industry observers are predicting some changes that could cause hiccups in the labor movement. That includes a “weakened” Labor Department and changes in National Labor Relations Act, Michael H. LeRoy, a professor at the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 9.

“I anticipate that there will be regulation requiring unions to disclose their membership list,” LeRoy said. “I think the objective behind that is that any time membership rolls fall below 50 percent of the bargaining unit that would result in a decertification attempt.”

There could be policy changes that could spur hiring discrimination based on conditions such as sexual orientation, LeRoy said. This could be added to other efforts such as a potential push for a national right-to-work law and rescinding DOL policies such the persuader rule and new overtime requirements, he said. The ideas are to shift power away from the labor movement, he added.

“The NLRA was to transform the work stoppages and violent protests into collective bargaining and take these disputes from streets to a conference room, and now we are heading back to the other way,” LeRoy said.

Unions Looking Beyond National Losses

The union could fight against the losses of power by forming alliances with consumer groups, said Charles Heckscher, a professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.

“They will have to reach outside working with other labor unions,” he said. “They’ll need to work with groups outside the labor community. That includes consumer groups that can be allies for labor groups.”

There could be stronger efforts to strengthen union impacts on improving worker rights on state and local levels, Heckscher said.

IAM spokesman Frank Larkin told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 9 that the local efforts have been good for the union, particularly with organizing new workers.

“Regarding a legislative agenda, our focus has already been on focusing on the local level, putting more resources into organizing campaign and we will continue that,” he said.

Also, despite the losses on the national level, labor unions such as UNITE HERE Nov. 9 lauded wins on local levels, including a strong voting campaign that helped Clinton win the majority of votes in Nevada.

“We are proud of our efforts in Nevada,” Tim Barnes, the union’s legislative director, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 9. “I know our union helped deliver that for Secretary Clinton and picked up a senate seat.”

—With assistance from Chris Opfer

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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