Donald Trump, working-class hero, trashes labor unions
© Getty Images

White male American workers elected DonaldTrump as president. Now comes their payoff.

For one brief, shining moment, President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE gloried in his success at the Carrier Air Conditioning factory in Indiana by claiming to have saved 1,100 jobs.

Then reality set in.

Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, accused Trump of lying about how many jobs actually would remain in the U.S. Trump responded in typical fashion by tweeting that Jones had done "a terrible job" as a union leader and he should "Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues."

The company subsequently confirmed that Jones's information was accurate.

Adding to the insult to organized labor, Trump announced on Dec. 8 that he was appointing Andrew Puzder as his new secretary of Labor. Puzder has distinguished himself as head of a franchise operation that controls the fast food chains of Carl's Jr.'s and Hardee's.

ADVERTISEMENT
Puzder's main qualification appears to be outspoken opposition to increases in the minimum wage. In his view, any additional wage costs in the industry will immediately translate to raises in the cost of his product and harm consumers and jobs. His position is refuted by the best empirical evidence on the point. Professors David Card and Alan Krueger write that there is "no indication that the rise in the minimum wage reduce[s] employment." (Puzder also shares Trump's appreciation for attractive women and features them in his quasi-pornographic commercials.)

Despite the injury Puzder will inflict on a major governmental department, his appointment is the least damaging element of Trump's labor policies. There are other areas in which Trump can inflict lasting harm on unions, middle-class wage earners and the demographic that brought him to power. Each factor will exacerbate economic inequality in this country by further weakening labor unions.

Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman recently wrote a blogpost describing the "two countries" making up the U.S. political economy. Their data show that in 1962, the share of pre-tax income in this country going to the top 1 percent and the bottom 50 percent of income earners was approximately 20 percent to the lower earners and just above 12 percent for the top earners. By 2014, the numbers were reversed, with 20 percent to the 1 percent and just over 12 percent to the 50 percent. The decline of labor unions accounts for much of the shift.

That single economic fact succinctly explains the rise of Trump. The rest of the story is even more disheartening.

The National Labor Relations Board consists of five members and has responsibility for administering the nation's collective bargaining law. The president appoints board members for five-year overlapping terms.

Presently the board has three members: Chairman Mark Pearce and members Philip Miscimarra and Lauren McFerran. Pearce is a Republican appointee and the other two members are Democrats. On inauguration, Trump can name two additional members, which will give Republicans a majority.

Any rules and doctrines generated by the Obama board favorable to unions and workers can be repealed.

Second, Trump has the opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court Justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia. If he chooses a candidate in the mold of Scalia, a majority of the court will nullify public sector union security clauses as a matter of constitutional law. Justice Samuel Alito made a run at such a holding in Friedrichs v. California, but came up one vote short after Scalia's death. A Trump nominee would fall in line with the anti-labor agenda, to the ongoing deterioration of public unions.

The third important labor development is right-to-work legislation. Republicans succeeded in taking over the state governments in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and New Hampshire, all of which are presently union security states. That condition is likely to change. In fact, the Ohio legislature is prepared to introduce right-to-work legislation in its forthcoming session.

When West Virginia passed its right-to-work law in 2016, the national balance of power shifted in favor of right-to-work. The Koch brothers and their front organizations, particularly the National Right to Work Committee, envision a federal ban on union security clauses. A bill is now pending in Congress which would accomplish that goal and even further marginalize labor unions. Trump would happily sign the bill.

In my book on right-to-work, I argue that the conflict between community and individualism in American culture appears in the political realm as a debate between collective solidarity and economic self-interest. Right-to-work legislation is an iteration of that fundamental schism, and our dominant political ideology is now tilted toward gratification of the self.

As future President Trump tries to manage his fake reality shows in Washington and New York, the alt-right extremists propelling his ascendancy will take over the ship of state and run it onto the shoals. The true plundering can then begin.

Raymond Hogler is professor of labor law, labor relations and human resource management at Colorado State University.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.