Trump’s War On Public Unions: Why Unions Cannot Attract The Public Outrage They Need In An Age of Income Inequality
Employees of the Federal government have become a target of President Donald Trump. Via three executive orders, Trump has barred Federal employees from spending more than 25% of their time on the job carrying out union duties, started charging unions rent for space they use in Federal buildings, stopped paying employees for the cost of lobbying the Federal government, and ordered his subordinates to more aggressively negotiate union contracts. Suffice it to say, there is criticism from the unions representing Federal employees. Given Trump’s negotiating philosophy when it comes to business dealings and trade agreements, the President was more likely trying to pick a fight in order to disadvantage unions than renegotiate contracts. Trump’s strategic visions notwithstanding, reality has a habit of delivering far more devastating collateral damage with far fewer gains than Mr. Trump perceives.
The Trump Administration has already undertaken a whole host of initiatives, including a global trade war designed to force the renegotiation of almost all of America’s trade deals. With such a large volume of workload assailing public officials, the capacity of the US government to cope is going to decrease, along with worker performance and the quality of worker outcomes. That is, after all, human nature. Quite frankly, the Trump Administration is taking on too great of a workload, especially since it has proven to be a particularly dysfunctional government. Coupled with Trump’s efforts to indiscriminately shrink the Federal government’s spending, infrastructure, and workforce, along with his contentious policies in general, his decision to play with the paychecks of his subordinates is sure to further undermine employee morale and undermine internal support for his own agenda.
Recognizing Scott Walker’s 2011 push to slash business taxes and curtail collective bargaining rights, the Wisconsin Governor was able to ride out State-wide union protests and a recall election to win reelection. Although Walker was able to successfully govern in spite of his rocky start, the blow back consumed a great deal of his time, energy, and political capital. The Federal government is, of course, far more complicated than the Wisconsin State government. There is also far more animosity toward Trump and a lack of confidence in Trump across the political spectrum, even if the Right is coalescing around the Republican President. Obviously, anti-union, small government advocates will support any initiatives that curtail the power of government and reduce Federal spending. What they will not do is lend their support for Trump’s political career. He is simply the means to an end. As such, Trump is unlikely to garner the political support he will need to effectively fight a war on unions.
That said, the unions representing government workers do need the political support from a critical mass of the American People to secure their collective bargaining power. They will utilize the legal system in an attempt to overturn Trump’s Executive Orders. Significant attempts to actually trim the Federal workforce and/or employee wages are probably going to result in a government shutdown, which may or may not lead to public backlash against the unions. It will be a lose-lose scenario for all responsible parties. Scott Walker demonstrated how difficult it can be for government workers to find enough support to win their cause. For his part, Walker managed to guard against public backlash by excluding police and firefighters from his anti-union policies. Trump is likely to use a similar strategy. In fact, it is probably why the President has made numerous overtures to public sector unions, i.e. divide and conquer. The truth is, however, that unions are far more responsible for the current lack of political support than Trump or any other political figure.
April, 2018 was marked by a series of nationwide protests in support of higher teacher wages. These protests largely failed to inspire mass outrage. A majority of Americans are sympathetic to the needs of teachers, but support quickly drops when people learn how much teachers actually make. Today, just over 10% of the workforce belongs to a union as income inequality and poverty are growing. Because unions give workers the leverage needed to improve their wages, increased financial struggles should translate into a union boom. It is not. Like the economy, unions have increasingly served a smaller slice of the workforce, often enriching their members while ignoring or benefiting from the low wages of non-members. In other words, unions cannot garner sufficient public support for their causes, because they are not helping a majority of American workers. Just as private sector unions are less inclined to join public sector unions in protest, because they have no direct interest in doing so, the majority of American workers are not going to support union efforts.
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