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If Trump's nominees are confirmed by the Senate, Republicans will control the NLRB for the first time in nearly a decade. (Photo: AFSCME/Twitter)

With Nation's Attention Elsewhere, Trump Quietly Intensifies War on Workers

Trump has nominated two corporate lawyers to the NLRB as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch gears up to rule on a key labor case

Jake Johnson

In a little-discussed move that could spell disaster for unions and workers in the near future and over the long-term, President Donald Trump on Tuesday night announced the nomination of William Emanuel—a lawyer for a firm that represents large corporations—to fill a vacant seat on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

"The labor board put in place by Trump will be far more likely to side with employers in contentious, policy-setting cases."
—Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

Emanuel, as Reuters noted, is a member of the Federalist Society, an ultra-right-wing group of lawyers and donors that has been credited with producing the list of possible Supreme Court nominees the Trump administration flaunted during his presidential campaign.

If Emanuel and Trump's other nominee—Washington attorney Marvin Kaplan—are confirmed by the Senate, Republicans will control the NLRB for the first time in nearly a decade.

Since November, Republicans at the state level have been passing anti-union laws at a torrid pace, and leverage over federal employment rules will further enable them to dismantle what is left of organized labor.

As such, Republican lawmakers and business groups promptly celebrated Trump's decision to nominate Emanuel, which Huffington Post labor reporter Dave Jamieson characterized as "a big favor for employers, including his family business."

The NLRB's decisions help determine how easy or difficult it is for workers to unionize―which, in turn, affects unions' footprint in the U.S. economy, and how much bargaining power rank-and-file workers have with their employers.

That includes Trump's own family hotel business, which has come before the NLRB several times over labor disputes.

After years of rulings friendly to unions in the Obama era, the labor board put in place by Trump will be far more likely to side with employers in contentious, policy-setting cases. With its new Republican majority, the board may undo notable decisions in recent years that helped more workers secure collective bargaining rights in the workplace.

The prospect that corporate lawyers could soon have the ability to determine the fate of unions has alarmed organizers, who fear that the further deterioration of union influence in the workplace could have devastating effects on worker pay and benefits.

A New York Times list of Obama-era rulings that will likely be overturned by a GOP-controlled NLRB shows that their concerns are justified.

The Times list includes:

  • "A ruling that made it easier for relatively small groups of workers within a company to form a union."
  • "A ruling that granted graduate students at private universities a federally protected right to unionize."
  • "A ruling that increased the likelihood that companies could be held responsible for labor violations committed by contractors and franchisees."

Recent moves by the Trump administration indicate that the Obama administration's overtime rule could soon be on the chopping block as well. The rule, NPR summarized, "said anyone making less than $47,476 a year would be eligible for time-and-a-half pay for hours worked beyond a 40-hour work week."

In addition to the NLRB and Trump-appointed Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, corporate America also appears to have an ally in new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, argues Ian Millhiser in a recent piece for The Nation.

Last year, Millhiser notes, "a case that sought to starve public sector unions of the money they need to operate" faltered only after the death of Antonin Scalia created a 4-4 deadlock.

"Now, however, Gorsuch occupies Scalia's old seat," Millhiser wrote. "And Gorsuch is, if anything, well to Scalia's right. The Supreme Court's war on unions, in other words, will now resume."


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