The first month of the Trump administration was mostly a discouraging one for labor unions. Since taking office, the president has frozen federal hiring (though he did pledge to hire 15,000 border patrol agents) and restated his support for a national “right to work” law that would disrupt unions’ funding mechanisms. He also sought the confirmation of Andy Puzder, a fast-food CEO who’s not fond of minimum-wage or overtime rules, to head the Department of Labor, only to see him withdraw amid public outcry.
Still, some within the labor movement have cheered Trump’s use of the presidential bully pulpit to harangue employers who send jobs overseas, and voiced optimism about Trump’s stated desire to “buy American and hire American.”
This has left many labor unions with a decision about how best to serve their members going forward: Should they try to get along with Trump, in the hope that they will be able to help guide his efforts to court working-class voters? Or should they take to the streets alongside progressives calling for workplace-based actions, like the recent nationwide strikes by women and by immigrants?
Union leaders have diverged on their answers to these questions. For example, Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, wrote in The New York Times that Trump’s “emerging cabinet and policy pronouncements seem to treat actual working people as bottom lines rather than human beings.” Nonetheless, Trumka and other union leaders have voiced limited support of Trump’s views on trade, specifically applauding him for withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Mary Kay Henry, the president of the SEIU, which represents service workers and significant numbers of immigrant workers, took a harder line, saying she was “battening down the hatches” to prepare for a Trump presidency. At the other end of the spectrum, public-safety union officials have enthusiastically embraced Trump’s policies, including his plan for a wall along the U.S.’s southern border.