Terry Schwadron

May 29, 2018

4 min read

Sorting Out Trump and Workers

Terry H. Schwadron

May 29, 2018

It’s not news that President Trump — and more broadly, business-oriented Republicans in the Congress — hold workers in a special category. They are “real Americans” and “salt of the earth”-types who have been ignored when their tax-cutting interests and desire for plain, non-PC talk runs alongside the President’s own language.

But, as a group that wants to earn more money, a better share of the American Dream, to reduce income gaps between themselves and the wealthy, well, workers — and the laws and practices that support worker initiatives — -are a drag on entrepreneurship and better business conditions.

As a private businessman, Donald Trump had a long history of stiffing workers on agreed-upon pay agreements, for example. As a business forecaster, Trump sees ownership as the most important part of How Business Runs, with financing a close second. As a president, then, it seemed almost foreshadowed that he would replace majority members on the National Labor Relations Council with people who would consistently vote against worker-oriented policies and interests, like extending requirements for overtime pay for non-wage-hour employees.

Now comes word that the President, with a stroke of the presidential pen, is making it easier to dump federal workers. This is being done without laws, just by executive orders, to weaken the protections of the Civil Service codes, to make it easier to simply eliminate jobs.

The executive orders weakenthe influence of government unions and make it easier for agencies to fire civil servants. The orders will standardize agency rules to make it easier and quicker to remove poorly performing employees. They also direct federal agencies to renegotiate their labor contracts and cap the amount of paid time that workers can take off to conduct union-related business.

Doing so is much more efficient than what the Trump Administration has done for a year, which is to allow vacancies to remain open. In many agencies of the government, there are empty functions, places where decisions that depend on employee systems just go to die. We see it most keenly at the State Department, of course, because there are no undersecretaries for peculiar topics or geographies, and the President seems to get mixed up in policies for which there had been inadequate preparation or follow-through.

One such vacancy has been for the general counsel for the National Labor Relations authority, effectively halting any labor complaints to the government.

But in truth, there will be more.

A lot of this has been by design. Whether through the White House or the guidance of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the goal has been a smaller federal government, with more responsibilities given to the states to enforce — or not — the various consumer, environmental, social service protections and functions that we expect. That meat that we buy in the supermarket is supposed to meet standards set by the Department of Agriculture, and be the same in Mississippi and Rhode Island.

Last week, the Supreme Court weighed in with its version of an anti-worker move, deciding 5–4 to bar the use of arbitration in class actions among employees against an employer in non-union settings. The case involved claims by workers at three companies that their employers underpaid them.The companies’ employment contracts required their workers to pursue any pay disputes in arbitration rather than in a regular court, and to do so individually — which is prohibitively expensive for most workers.

Actually, the case pit two laws against each other — the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The N.L.R.A. gives workers the right to join unions and to “engage in other concerted activities” for “mutual aid or protection.” The employees in last week’s case argued that those rights were violated by the arbitration agreements they were forced to accept as a condition of their employment. Justice Neil Gorsuch said for the majority that the arbitration law was passed to help businesses avoid the cost and delay of court proceedings, and the N.L.R.A. did nothing to alter that.

“Justice Gorsuch appears to imagine workers and employers negotiating under Marquess of Queensberry rules, engaged in a fair and equal face-off over working conditions and terms of employment. . . In practice, things almost never work this way. For instance, one company in Monday’s case sent new hires an email informing them that by accepting the job they were deemed to have agreed to the arbitration clause, and to waive any right to join a class action. If they refused, they could find another job. That’s not negotiation, it’s extortion,” concluded an editorial in The New York Times.

The use of mandatory arbitration clauses by non-unionized companies has increased from 2% in 1992 to 54% today. Almost one in four nonunionized workers are subject to clauses that bar them from pursuing class actions in arbitration.

Majorities come and go, as do the various leanings of just general Business positivism and aggressive pro-Business policy making in the government.

Still, the insistence of President Trump to refer to some American workers as “real Americans” and heroes because they are working in manufacturing and mining rather than as teachers and artists, the heavy lean on policies that will worsen lives of the poor, the return over and over to the defense of happier, “whiter” times when political correctness was unneeded, all spell problems for building a blended American whole.

Work and income equality efforts should be seen as tools for social repair rather than more scorn for those who do not vote the Trump slate.