Pence Pick Signals Pro-Employer Labor Stance

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By Chris Opfer

July 15 — Donald Trump's July 15 selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his Republican running mate is likely to solidify Trump's bona fides in the employer community and increase skepticism among labor groups.

In Pence, Republicans get an experienced legislator who appears to mirror the party's position on most labor issues. Worker advocates, on the other hand, see a familiar foe.

“He's been no friend of ours since he's been in office and even when he was in Congress,” Brett Voorhies, president of the Indiana AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg BNA July 15.

Pence has fought to save the state's right-to-work law, which bans “union security” clauses in collective bargaining agreements, and scrapped prevailing wage requirements on public construction contracts since becoming governor in 2013.

However, he has also supported the Trans Pacific Partnership, the pending Pacific Rim trade deal that Trump regularly rails against as a job killer.

The selection seems to confirm the widely held belief among employer groups and Republican lawmakers that Trump will back them on most labor issues.

“Certainly, I think from the businesses community perspective, Governor Pence will have a very positive influence on the Trump administration,” Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg BNA July 15.

Right-to-Work, Prevailing Wage

The right-to-work law and prevailing wage dust-up are the two most significant labor issues that Pence took on in his single term as governor.

The right-to-work law went into effect under previous Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), but it was Pence's administration that beat back court challenges to what's seen as one of the most severe threats to the way unions operate. The law bars labor organizations and employers from agreeing to require workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the right-to-work law in a 2-1 decision in 2014 ( Sweeney v. Pence, 2014 BL 240711 , 767 F.3d 654, 200 LRRM 3465 (7th Cir. 2014)).

Trump has also pledged his support for right-to-work laws during his presidential campaign. Although 25 states currently have right-to-work laws on the books, it still remains a long shot that supporters would be able to get similar legislation passed at the federal level.

Still, Pence's support for the law and his record on other labor issues is likely to land him squarely in organized labor's cross hairs in the run-up to the election. He's also caught some flack from the left for signing and then repealing a religious freedom bill that would have shielded businesses that discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“If that's the ticket, Trump-Pence, we will make sure that everybody knows their voting record, and we will work to defeat them,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters shortly before the announcement July 15. Pence “doesn’t bring anything to the ticket for working people,” he said.

Pence sided with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on 89 percent of key votes—as identified by the chamber—in his 12 years in Congress. He has a 5 percent lifetime voting score from the AFL-CIO.

Indiana's 80-year-old prevailing wage system required contractors on public construction contracts to pay workers at a rate set by the state government before Pence signed legislation to repeal the law in 2014. Prevailing wage laws have long been the scorn of Republicans and construction employers, who argue that governments shouldn't be in the business of setting private sector pay rates.

In addition, Pence in March signed a bill banning local governments from enacting worker schedule ordinances that are more strict than state law. That includes ordinances that require employers to offer workers more reliable schedules and to notify them of scheduling changes within a certain time period.

Opposition From Public Sector Unions

Labor unions representing public school teachers and state and local government employees also criticized Trump's selection of Pence as his running mate.

Pence cut public school funding in Indiana while diverting funds to “corporate-run” charter schools, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, said in a July 15 statement.

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said in a separate July 15 statement Pence had “cut the retirement benefits of tens of thousands of nurses, teachers, firefighters and other public service workers.”

The NEA represents more than 3 million teachers and other public school employees. AFSCME has 1.6 million members. AFSCME is an AFL-CIO affiliate, while the NEA partners with AFL-CIO unions in some states.

Businesses Hopeful on Trade

Trade appears to be one of the few labor-related policy areas on which Trump and Pence may not exactly see eye to eye.

The presumptive presidential nominee has blasted the TPP with just about every opportunity he gets. His criticisms often sound a lot like the trade deal opposition from labor groups.

Trump said during a Republican presidential debate in January that the TPP is a “horrible deal” that's “going to lead to nothing but trouble.” He has criticized the deal as a pathway to shipping jobs overseas and said it doesn't do enough to combat rampant currency manipulation that gives trading partners an upper hand over U.S. businesses.

Pence, meanwhile, urged the TPP's “swift adoption” in a 2014 tweet. “Trade means jobs, but trade also means security,” Pence said.

That position is a welcome one for business groups, who say the TPP and other deals will help spur economic activity stateside. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce's Brinegar told Bloomberg BNA he hopes to see Pence make that case to Trump.

“Having a potential vice president who supports the deal will hopefully at least bring those arguments and that perspective to the table,” Brinegar said.

—Louis LaBrecque contributed to this story.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in Washington at copfer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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