The Future of Unions Under Trump
How will unions fare under the Trump administration?
Throughout the Obama administration, the NLRB has issued several pro-union decisions expanding the reach of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), making it easier for unions to organize.
This pro-worker trend is likely at the end of its run, however, as President-elect Trump is expected to quickly shift the federal agency’s priorities to be decidedly more Republican-leaning and pro-employer.
Trump's recent run-in with the NLRB
The National Labor Relationship Board (NLRB) is the federal agency responsible for regulating unions and investigating labor disputes. Trump is very familiar with the NLRB – just last year more than 500 employees of the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas voted to join the Culinary Workers Union. Hotel management fought the unionization effort, but was ordered to negotiate with employees after a November 3 ruling from the NLRB found that the hotel was engaging in an unfair labor practice by refusing to bargain with workers.
Both parties were able to reach a settlement in late December that did allow workers to join the union. The decision also included an agreement to allow a unionization campaign effort for workers at Trump’s new hotel in Washington D.C.
Trump's power to affect change at the NLRB as President
While the NLRB and unions may have come out on top in this one case, Trump is likely to have the last word: As President, Trump will be able to appoint three of the five members of the NLRB. He’ll also have the power to name the agency’s general counsel, the person responsible for prosecuting unfair labor practice cases and supervising NLRB field offices in the processing of local cases. What’s more, he’ll also be responsible for nominating the next Supreme Court Justice (filling the vacant seat left by Justice Antonin Scalia after his death last year). And if even just one other seat on the court is vacated during Trump’s term in office, the Court will swing farther to the right.
All of these factors combined make it likely that the NLRB will undergo a significant shift under Trump than under Obama.
Pro-union initiatives likely to be targeted by Trump administration
Experts believe Trump will move quickly to dismantle many of the pro-union/pro-worker initiatives backed by the Obama initiatives, including the following executive orders:
- E. O. 13496: Notification of Employee Rights under Federal Labor Laws
This executive order revokes a previous order signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 (E. O. 13201) requiring all qualifying federal contractors to display a notice informing employees of certain rights. Chief among these rights were the right not to join a union and the right to not pay union dues that would be used for political contributions or other activity not strictly related to administering the collective bargaining agreement. In addition, this executive order requires qualifying federal contractors to display notices that advise workers of their rights to unionize under the NLRA.
- E. O. 13495: Nondisplacement of Qualified Workers Under Service Contracts
This executive order revokes another Bush order (E. O. 13204). This previous order removed the requirement that successive contractors offer a right of first refusal of employment to workers of the prior contractor. The new order instead imposes obligations for new contractors on a project to offer employment to the workers of the outgoing contractor.
- E. O. 13494: Economy in Government Contracting
This executive order added union avoidance costs as a new category of “unallowable” reimbursement costs. This prevents federal contractors from seeking reimbursement for expenses related to persuading employees to exercise or not exercise their right to organize.
- E. O. 13502: Use of Project Labor Agreements for Federal Construction Projects
This executive order encourages (but does not mandate) the use of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) in large-scale federal construction projects. Individual agencies may require contractors and/or subcontractors involved in such projects to agree to negotiate to become a party to a PLA with labor organizations.
Interested in learning more about unions and the NLRB?
Check out our recent webinar, "The Expanding Role of the NLRB." In this webinar Sean O'Donnell, one of G&A's senior HR advisors, explores how the unionization process works, employee and employer rights under the NLRB, as well as the recent trend of unionization under President Obama, and how the Trump administration might impact unions.